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‘Proud of the boys’

Virat Kohli

Calcutta: Virat Kohli believes that at the end of the first Test, it was the game which was the winner. Indeed, it was a thrilling contest where both the teams had a chance to win. But then, with South Africa downing shutters towards the end, the match ended in a draw.

South Africa needed only 16 runs off the last three overs of the match for an outstanding victory. It would also have been a record chase in Tests. The Proteas had three wickets in hand and, more importantly, Vernon Philander, who batted gallantly in the first innings, was looking good once again.

It’s not that only the home side had a chance to win. The Indians too could have hoped for a victory had the South Africans tried to score those runs. Under such pressure, mistakes happen and that could have given the visitors a chance of getting the remaining three Proteas wickets.

But Philander and Dale Steyn opted for safety. For two overs, they hardly tried to score runs, leaving most of the deliveries. Both were maiden overs. Interestingly, Steyn hit a six off Mohammed Shami in the last ball of the Test. Why so late? Only Steyn would know.

One wonders if a result would have been a much better advertisement for Test cricket.

After the match, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said: “I am proud of the boys for the way they have performed in this Test.”

Praising both the batsmen and the bowlers, Dhoni said: “It has been a fantastic display by our bowlers. As far as batting is concerned, Kohli has been brilliant, (Cheteshwar) Pujara has played a fantastic knock and I would also mention (Murali) Vijay’s name… When the ball was doing a bit, he fought it out and that was the reason why we could get off to a calm, decent start.”

On the Test overall, he said: “In the fourth innings, we were a bit more aggressive with the ball. At the same time, the required run-rate for South Africa was more than five an over. So we were confident that we would be able to defend the total. There also came a situation where we could have lost the match. But I think that it was a great learning experience for the bowlers. The next time they get into a situation like this, they would know how to attack, how much to attack and how to deal with the situation. Overall, it has been a big positive for us and it was a great Test match.”

Dhoni also lauded comeback man Zaheer Khan’s efforts. “Whenever you are playing outside the subcontinent, it is really important that you have experienced bowlers in your side. Zaheer can easily be the leader of the pack… He looks very different, a lot fitter. I think the more he spends time with us, his fitness will push him to improve further so that he can give us much more,” the captain said.

Dhoni’s counterpart, Graeme Smith, gave India credit for playing well. “Credit to India… They have played extremely well over the past four days. The second day was an extremely tough one to bat and we kind of fell behind. But we actually fought our way back into the Test. We played extremely good cricket and we showed a lot of mental strength throughout the game. So credit to my boys as well,” Smith said.

Appreciating the way Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers played, Smith said: “I think the knock Faf and AB played today will go down in the history of Test cricket as two of the finest innings ever played.”

Defending their defensive approach towards the end of the game, Smith said: “I think we were in a commanding position till the point Faf got run out. We back the decision the players in the middle made. I believe the decisions Philander and Steyn made were 100 per cent in the best interest of the team. We have to support that.”

“A win would have definitely been incredible and when we came out in the morning, we were looking forward to it. But when we lost a few wickets, we decided that we must ensure that when we go to Durban, we still have a chance to win the series,” he added.