The victory was achieved in the second over post-tea. Ravi Ashwin made one rear from a good length and AB de Villiers gloved it to Ravindra Jadeja at leg slip. Game over! It took four more overs to complete the formality but once their talisman was out, South Africa had lost their resolve.
Even at his obdurate best, AB was a hero; a tragic hero to be precise. It was him versus India on the fifth day. And AB was standing like a rock, blocking everything and frustrating the Indian bowlers. Three years ago at the Adelaide Oval, he had consumed 220 balls for his 33 to salvage a draw. Here at Kotla, he stayed there for 345 minutes and played 297 balls to score 43. Someone who can hit a century in international cricket in 31 balls, once again eschewed his natural aggression to contribute to the team’s cause. He couldn’t save his team, but even in defeat the South African master was resplendent.
India won, this time on a proper cricket pitch, because they had Ashwin and a reinvigorated Jadeja. It was the low-key left-arm spinner who broke Hashim Amla’s 288-minute (25 runs, 244 balls) resilience. It was Jadeja who accounted for ‘block master general’ Faf du Plessis. And then there was the captain, who also contributed a great deal to the triumph.
Virat Kohli didn’t lose his composure in the face of South Africa’s stubbornness. He was patient. He rotated his bowlers. More importantly, he trusted his pacers even on such a slow strip. Sticking to Umesh Yadav in the final session turned out to be a masterstroke. Umesh removed Dane Vilas and then just rolled over the tail. It was heartening to see an Indian fast bowler breaking the stump. After so many years of ineffective dibbly-dobbly medium pace and a penchant to take the pace off the ball, it was a refreshing change. It was so overwhelming to see an Indian stumper shifting his balance at the last moment and diving full length to his right to pluck a catch out of thin air. Credit goes to Kohli for backing speed over slowness. Credit to him for supporting Wriddhiman Saha – a ‘keeper-batsman, not the other way round. And Credit to the whole team for eking out this win.
India checked in at Kotla after securing an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series. But successes in Mohali and Nagpur came with a pinch of salt, thanks to the square turners that had been laid out. Here, on a pitch that allowed an even contest between bat and ball, India once again trumped the world No. 1 Test side – one of the most memorable victories ever on home soil. Kohli and his boys deserve a big round of applause.