Playing to the death in smog

OVER AND OUT: South Africa's Dane Vilas reacts as India's Umesh Yadav dismisses him during the fifth day of the fourth test at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi yesterday Picture: AFP
OVER AND OUT: South Africa’s Dane Vilas reacts as India’s Umesh Yadav dismisses him during the fifth
day of the fourth test at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi yesterday Picture: AFP

BAT for 90 overs. Take eight wickets. If the last day’s play in the fourth test at the Ferozeshah Kotla yesterday was that simple, Einstein would have formulated E=mc² during a coffee break.

South Africa needed to salvage something – nothing quantifiable or even important; just something – from the series.

India needed to complete something important and quantifiable: a 3-0 triumph over the team who had arrived with a 16-point lead in the rankings.

More realistically, the teams needed to get the job done before or until the umpires decided that the world’s most polluted air had officially become too thick with filth to be penetrated by the human eye well enough to allow the ball to be seen.

As a time and space equation, it was E=mc² itself. India solved it, achieving their biggest victory in terms of runs – 337 – to reach up and grab second place in the rankings.

The Proteas, their lead now down to four points, tumbled to their worst defeat since Australia beat them by 530 runs in Melbourne in 1911. That’s before the Titanic hit the iceberg.

When AB de Villiers stalked off having followed and gloved a spitting cobra of a delivery from Ravichandran Ashwin to leg slip, his way was lit by a veritable constellation of cellphone cameras that only just managed to cut through the soupy gloom.

It was 2.39pm and the dying of the light was imminent, in every sense.

De Villiers was seventh out, having played the most un-AB-like innings in all of his 169 trips to the test crease. There was no swash. There was no buckle. There was only the spirit of a stoic who had come to bat all day. The 297th ball he faced proved one too many. Sixteen minutes and two dozen deliveries later, the match, the series and the tour were finally over.

The visitors’ last five wickets crashed for seven runs in 26 balls. And that after the first five had stood tall and firm for 746 balls. They were 94-3 at lunch, 136-5 at tea, and 143 all out 31 deliveries into the third session.

Even Virat Kohli, a man not easily moved from the centre of his universe, noted South Africa’s performance: “To play like that is a difficult skill. I was impressed with the way they applied themselves.”

Ashwin, the Einstein, Eisenhower and Eastwood of this series, finished with 5-61, his fourth five-wicket haul in a rubber in which he claimed 31 scalps.

South Africa put up a brave fight, none more so than De Villiers. Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, too, will one day look back on December 7 2015 and wonder how the hell they did what they did.

But that day is a long way off. For now, the Proteas must look ahead. Oh, to be home now that England are almost there.

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