Will Proteas defy the odds at Wanderers?

2013-12-22 06:00

SA staring down the barrel with a full day to go

On the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere, the Proteas are required to overhaul the tallest fourth-innings total in test cricket at a ground that is a graveyard for chasing teams.

The Proteas have never chased down very well at the Wanderers. And now they will have to summon the spirit of England captain Michael Atherton, whose magnificent 185* 18 years ago denied the hosts a victory.

For the first time since the Adelaide test last year, the Proteas will have to bat out the whole of day five.

They will have to summon all their mental and physical reserves to repeat the feats of that legendary match.

The Proteas batsmen have scored a combined total of eight fourth-innings hundreds, none of which have come in a losing cause. But with Graeme Smith, the biggest contributor to that significant total, already in the hut (run out attempting a ludicrous single) – it seems almost unlikely.

If fielding is a mirror into a team’s state of mind and morale, then run outs betray panic-strewn minds behind cool facades.

In a 108-run stand, Smith and Alviro Petersen did not look like getting out.

Petersen remains unbeaten overnight and it is with him that South Africa’s hopes stand. After all, Atherton was an opening batsman, albeit of lesser aesthetic value but higher match-winning quality.

He was partnered by Faf du Plessis, the hero of Adelaide, who is now living on borrowed time in the test team with the understudies looking to overtake him.

It was the first time Petersen crossed 30 in 11 innings and there is no better opportunity to make it count, especially on his home ground, with two premier batsmen out.

Hashim Amla was out to an attempted bouncer by Mohammed Shami, which hit the sizeable crack outside the right-hander’s off stump at the Golf Course end of the ground and cannoned into off stump in murky light.

The ball pitched so short, Amla was swaying out of its harmless intended path but it passed next to his chin on its way to the stumps.

It was the kind of delivery expected from a fourth-day surface and one that explained why it is so hard to chase at this ground.

South Africa will have to bat out all three sessions and hope the prediction of afternoon rain comes sooner than expected.

Not that they don’t have the stomach for a fight but the 52 runs they shipped from India’s last three wickets pushed the now required total past the highest successful run chase.

With every run scored, the energy was visibly draining away, but the start itself was better than Adelaide, when they went to bed at 77/4 on a deteriorating track.

Apart from the above-mentioned crack, the uncharacteristically slow surface has behaved.

But stiff chases bring mental ghosts that are far more lethal than those of the earth.

India was mysteriously becalmed in the morning session, compiling just 74 runs when the chance of knocking the stuffing out of the Proteas presented itself. It could have given Indian captain MS Dhoni the opportunity to make an early declaration with the mental advantage.

But Dhoni is the Frank Sinatra of cricket in the manner in which he does things. Three sessions stand between India and a famous victory on the favourite away ground in the world.

The former will determine the length of the game. Should the Proteas survive unscathed, it is game on.

Test by numbers

»?Highest successful fourth-innings chase: 418/7 by the West Indies vs Australia at St John’s, Antigua, in 2003

»?Highest successful fourth-innings chase at the Wanderers: 310/8 by Australia vs South Africa in 2010/11

»?Highest fourth-innings chase by South Africa at the Wanderers: 164/6 vs West Indies in 1998/99

»?South Africa’s Highest successful fourth-innings chase: 414/4 against Australia in Perth in 2008/09

»?Highest fourth-innings score at the Wanderers: 351/5 by England vs South Africa in 1995/96

»?Last time South Africa chased at the Wanderers: 291 all out vs Australia in 2008/09. Lost by 162 runs

»?Cheteshwar Pujara made his fourth 150-plus score in test cricket. His highest was 206* vs England

»?Pujara-Virat Kohli 222-run third-wicket partnership: Joint highest Indian partnership against the Proteas in South Africa

»?Dale Steyn: Has for the first time gone without taking any wickets in an innings since the 2012 test against New Zealand at the Basin Reserve in Wellington

»?Vernon Philander: Fastest South African to reach 100 test wickets in 19 tests, beating Steyn’s record by one test

»?Highest fourth-innings total by South Africa against India at the Wanderers: 278 in 2006/07. SA lost by 123 runs

Scorecard

» India 1st innings: 280 (V Kohli 119, AM Rahane 47, CA Pujara 25, VD Philander 4/61, M Morkel 3/34)

»S outh Africa 1st innings: 244 all out (GC Smith 68, VD Philander 59, HM Amla 36, Ishant Sharma 4/79, Zaheer Khan 4/88)

» India 2nd innings: 421 all out (CA Pujara 153, V Kohli 96, JH Kallis 3/68, VD Philander 3/68)

» South Africa 2nd innings: 138/2 (AN Petersen 76*, GC Smith 44, Mohammed Shami 1/30)

» South Africa needs 320 more runs to win

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