India’s proud and unique record of never losing to Wanderers in Johannesburg was defiantly snatched by a South African side who roared through the series, leveling it 1-1.
On the fourth day, a steady drizzle threatened to completely wipe out the proceedings.
But, as if following the meteorologist’s instructions like an obedient student, the rain stopped as expected and play began at 3:45 p.m., with 34 possible overs in hand.
At this point it looked like neither team would be able to force a result and the game would slide slowly into matchday five.
With the lights on and the skies overcast, there was every reason to believe India‘s fast bowlers would get a lot of help.
But, a new South African team has come out at bat, one we haven’t previewed in any series so far.
Dean Elgar was himself, the immutable object of India’s irresistible force.
But the real revelation was Rassie van der Dussen. He appeared to lack confidence and the experts had spotted holes in his technique after the first test.
But van der Dussen has shown why he is so highly rated in this country.
The way he leaned into a cover drive, perfectly shifted his weight forward and put the ball in front of the defender was such a beautiful shot you could make a bronze statue of him and l to admire from afar.
A ball full of Shami, drifting over the pad, was neatly snagged on the square-legged fence, and when the vexed bowler dug the ball in short, van der Dussen was quick to pounce, firing the front of the square of the front foot.
As if to remind viewers that he could take on any bowler, van der Dussen then extended fully to a rising ball from Shardul Thakur, his toes dropping off the ground as he crossed the cover for another boundary.
The day started with South Africa needing 122, after having to grind hard for 118. van der Dussen decided it was not a day to hang around. When he fell to 40 – a round that was worth far more than that, given the opportunity and the challenge that awaited him – van der Dussen had brought South Africa into a position of strength.
The pressure on Elgar, who often cuts an Atlas figure, bearing the burden of South Africa’s expectations on his pugilist’s shoulders, was greatly eased by the move van der Dussen had played.
India fought on, but in their hearts they knew they just didn’t have enough points to play against a team that beat with the belief that they could win, rather than just trying to to survive.
Elgar found a capable ally in Temba Bavuma, and for once it didn’t matter that it was a batsman who struggled to convert fifties into big scores.
With victory approaching, Elgar shrugged off his worries, gilding the ball, carving it and even climbing to the third man fence.
Elgar, unbeaten in ’96, probably the most important innings of his career, brought his team home with seven wickets to spare.
It was a baptism of fire for KL Rahul as captain, and he will face some criticism for some of the decisions he made on the pitch. But, the truth was that India had just been dominated by a South African side who had regained their fierce pride in playing at home.
It was South Africa’s most successful pursuit at Centurion and their sixth best ever.
Now was not the time to point fingers at India, but to acknowledge that a team had played superior cricket and give them their moment in the sun.
India 202 (Rahul 50, Ashwin 46; Jansen 4/31, Rabada 3/64, Olivier 3/64) and 266 (Rahane 58, Pujara 53, Vihari 40*; Ngidi 3/43, Jansen 3/67, Rabada 3/ 77) lost to South Africa 229 (Petersen 62, Bavuma 51; Thakur 7/61) and 243/3 (Elgar 96*, van der Dussen 40) by 7 wickets