Rather go down going for a win than a draw. As in life,no point going down wondering.
Herschelle Gibbs,December 22.
A dozen years back,another number one Test side in the world arguably the strongest of all number one sides in Test history wouldve made Gibbs proud. Steve Waughs Australia werent going to die wondering.
Quite like Johannesburg,the Brisbane Test against New Zealand in November 2001 was the first of a short Test series. This was an Australian side that hadnt drawn a match in their last 23 Tests (20 wins,3 losses). And when incessant rain nearly washed away days two and three at the Gabba,it looked like Waugh would have to settle for one.
Only not. To remain the best,Australia were going to make things happen. To win,Waugh was going to take on the rain gods. Australia declared the first innings,the only innings played so far half way through the Test,on 486. Stephen Fleming,the Kiwi skipper,replied in kind by declaring on the follow-on mark 287 early on the last day. Australia opened with Adam Gilchrist,batted for a total of 57 minutes and scored 84 runs. NZ now needed 284 from two sessions.
When the Kiwis went into the last over with 10 runs to get with four wickets in hand,the cricket world applauded. For a match marred by the weather to finish with all four results possible until the very end had earned the contest a favourable title the greatest draw.
Until a match that did not deserve a draw snatched that title away on Sunday. Forget greatest draw (as the Joburg Test is popularly called now); Wanderers could have hosted the greatest Test of all time. It sure did have all the ingredients for one.
Unlike Waugh and Fleming,who created plenty out of nothing,the captains in Johannesburg (Graeme Smith in particular,for a No.1 teams captain cannot be averse to winning at all costs) managed to pull off quite the opposite. When South Africa refused to go after the 16 runs required off the last 18 balls to set a new benchmark for Test chases,they not only short-changed the catcalling fans at the Wanderers,but the game itself.
Consider,in context,everything that happened over the match. A Test side filled with players who hadnt travelled anywhere abroad (let alone to SA) outbatted the hosts on their spongy turf. Only for the hosts to make a chase of 458 possible despite once being reduced to 197/4.
Instead of settling the victor on the field,the Test ended with the players looking to earn an edge off it. Virat Kohli said he was shocked that Smith didnt push for a win. Smith,in turn,blamed India for sitting back with their fields. In the end,however,it was a spectator,one among us,that summed it up best. Long after the game ended,Gibbs,still clearly in shock,tweeted: Draw????? #ujoking???
Aditya is a principal correspondent,based in New Delhi