Ever since the Johannesburg Test ended in a draw, there has been plenty of criticism as well as praise of the manner in which South Africa played out the last 15 minutes of the chase. While one set of critics point out to the fact that South Africa should have gone for the victory after coming so close, many ex-cricketers and pundits have backed the South African batsmen’s decision out in the middle to play it safe. While a couple of big shots could have sealed the game in the Proteas’ favour, it is also true that had they lost a wicket they would have been in real danger of losing the Test, with only Imran Tahir and an injured Morne Morkel left.
After Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander played out the draw at Jo’burg, there was a lot of booing from the crowds for the two teams, and it has been revealed since that the same has affected Steyn a lot, who was really upset with the manner in which the home crowd reacted. Keeping aside the extreme reactions though, the hosts must look at the positives they achieved from the first Test. They were playing catch up for four days, but yet managed to come extremely close to clinching the Test on the final day.
Philander, who has recently replaced Steyn as the number one Test bowler in the world, was the most consistent of South African players at the Wanderers. Apart from day one of the game, when he was not in his elements, Philander was the most dangerous of all bowlers in the South African side. He line and length was close to impeccable in both the innings, and he was rewarded suitably. Further, he also rescued the team with bat, coming up with a crucial half-century in the first innings.
South Africa’s batting in the second innings was also top class, especially considering the pressure the side was under chasing a massive target. No praise can be too much for the manner in which Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers batted on the last day pitch. It was an exceptional performance in every sense. But, there were noteworthy performances from a couple of others as well. The opening partnership between Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen was crucial, which gave South Africa some much-needed confidence at the start of the chase.
Just like India, South Africa also have a few worries. The availability of Morne Morkel remains a big question mark. Also, Dale Steyn only ended up picking one wicket in the Test in spite of having sent down 56 overs. This rarely happens. It remains to be seen how he comes back. Remember, being termed as a culprit with the bat by the fans could also be playing on his mind. Then, there is the issue of Imran Tahir, who looked clueless against the Indians. It would be interesting to see the kind of attack South Africa put up at Durban.
--By A Cricket Analyst