Rummaging through adversity, the Indian team finally finds it reckoning
Yes, humans tend to be only half-awake, the fire burns within us, but it is fluttering in mere hope, our mental resources keep screaming out to be utilized, we saunter in our slumber, stutter around, dawdling through our existence.
We lose, we are kicked down to the dirt, life laughs at us; but then these losses are the flashlights to the sojourn of life; this game of cricket is an apt reflection of life, Indian team vindicates that lost soul who grabbed failure and dragged it along, eroded it and moulded success out of it!
Treacherous pitch, spitting bounce, wagging tounges, and voices baying for blood all over the place. Uncertain selections, a cluttered decision at the toss, indifferent start, and everything that rubs your self-belief out of your system.
“As a team, we are looking to correct all the mistakes that have happened. Wanderers has been a special venue for us, hopefully, we can play the same kind of cricket," Kohli had said before the match.
He batted then, India showed a lot of fight and grit on a pitch which was far from ideal to scramble to 187.
“This score is more like 300,” Pujara quacked after the end of the day.
South African stumbled and tripped, but they were taken care of Hashim Amla, he guided them past the visitors, seven runs was the difference between the team!
India had a spring in their stride, they believed, not for the first time in the series had they put themselves on top, but this time it was different. They were not wading across in sleep, they were wide awake, the pitch too was awake, the cracks wider than the erosion in India’s minds, and they combined on Day 2.
There was a concerted effort from the visitors to step away from the cobwebs of doubts looming large over their essence, there was a concerted effort to grind ahead, aesthetics have their own place in life, but not here, not when flashiness costs you careers and pride!
Only in cricket, only in the beauty of Test cricket can a 22-yard strip ignite so many debates. There were cracks wide open on the surface, almost mocking the existence of batting, there was grass sprinkled all over the surface, grinning at the helplessness of grown-up men with chunks of willow in their hands!
Make no mistake, it was tough, it was deceitful, it was what you scorn at in life, it was what builds your character, it was what separates the psalm from all the juddering noise.
It was no more a cauldron, it was theatre, there were no scripts, it was punishing, it was what life keeps throwing at you to test you, it was baptism by fire!
KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, men who are world-beaters, men who were lampooned at over the past one month, decided to segregate the noise and enjoy the hymn.
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
It was poetic in many ways, on Republic Day when the entire country was painted with patriotic fervour, the Indian team quietly telecasted the valour ingrained in them.
Amidst all the strokes, the pitch kept slapping them, the balls kept collecting them, the umpires were worried, they were vexed with the pitch, perhaps tried to drag the teams out.
Virat Kohli was not going anywhere, he stayed put, wore the ball, got hit, was beaten, creamed few drives, shot out verbals and when he walked out for 41, he looked up and all over, his detractors looked within, locked in their own cocoon!
Ajinkya Rahane and his romance with Test cricket on spicy pitches never seemed to stop. He took out his strokes, Bhuvneshwar Kumar took out his, they put the pitch out of their minds and controlled what they could.
Few strokes, many bruises, many contusions later, India dragged the lead to 240.
Perhaps, they had done enough, perhaps their doubts were slowly on the wane, perhaps character was being precast again!
And then Mohammed Shami pounded in banged the ball on a length, got it to jump up, kissed the edge of Aiden Markram’s bat and India found their voice.
The pitch below was wriggling along, the cracks frowned, but when Jasprit Bumrah hit Dean Elgar on the helmet, the pitch was innocent. Not for the umpires though, who hauled the teams out.
Kohli was dismayed, he headed straight to the match-referee to voice his concern.
The vice-captain headed to the press conference and made it clear that the pitch was difficult, it was not dangerous.
South Africa played it safe!
"At the end of the day, the umpires will make a decision, which they did. Before you go on about India batting twice on the same pitch, yes they did. And there were balls that were taking off from a length, and our captain was saying that 'I'm not sure that this is fair either,'” South Africa retorted.
Anyways after all the smokescreen, both teams took the field on Day 4, the match was in India’s favour, Hashim Amla was still in South Africa’s.
Nothing hassles Amla, he tweaked his technique just for this surface and pulled Elgar with him. The duo stuck to the task, and almost with ridiculous ease shepherded the hosts to 69 for one.
The demons had disappeared, lunch was an uneasy time for India.
Dean Elgar might still be evading balls if we pass by the Wanderers one week from now, India kept firing balls and verbals, he found a way to deal with it. He did not get out; India just tore open the other end!
Amla had added 119 with him and had chewed away a significant chunk of the target when Ishant Sharma trundled in and picked Amla.
He was just getting started, he castled Faf du Plessis and the match was back in the balance.
If these were pivotal moments, Jasprit Bumrah claimed AB de Villiers, and collared the match back in India’s favour!
And the moody Shami was given the ball. He banged the first ball short and wide, cracked away by Vernon Philander, he banged another one in, Philander dragged it back.
He hurled an inswinging ball which snuck under the bat of Phehlukwayo and ran towards Kohli who ran towards him.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar pitched one up, Rabada lured into a false sense of security, the ball kissed the edge and Pujara pouched it in the slips!
India were bouncing around, Wanderers was stunned, Elgar was still ungainly but present, the hole at the other end was carved up with disdain!
Shami took care of Morkel and Ngidi, Elgar sunk to his haunches, nothing to show for his bruises, nothing to show for his bullishness!
They lost their nine wickets for seven runs and Virat Kohli and his ‘brash’ brats had scripted a heist.
This match could have followed Capetown and Centurion, but then is not winking at life’s second chance makes us all humans?
The captain was angry, he was vindicated, he had started the fight, he convinced his team to wear the blows and when he took a bow at the end of the game, he was surreal!
“We required some character playing on a pitch that was very difficult. I think our guys showed great guts through the four days. We took the challenge. Batting first wasn't a call that went down well with some people, but we knew it was the right call. We knew we were close in the first two games. This was perfect. Elgar and Amla played really well, although it was not easy. You expect that from South Africa. But one thing I know is that when wickets go down, in pressure situations, it's very difficult to come back,” the captain announced.
When Thomas Alva Edison uttered these words, he could have well captured this particular Indian team and this particular victory!
“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”
Wanderers is called bullring for a reason, it is nerve-wracking, it is antagonistic, but for this Indian team, it was redemption, it was the restoration of the pride, it was finding so much more about them!