Amla defends blockathon tactic
The ten days between the end of the Nagpur Test and the end of the Delhi Test did not shake the world. All that moved was the margin of South Africa's defeat. Like the decimal point in a series of zeroes, it can seem insignificant, but look a bit closer, and it is not.
For India, it was the difference between domination and complacency. Between going second on the rankings without the risk of being overtaken - based on the outcome of the Australia-West Indies series - or just temporarily going second. Of driving home the point that it was possible to bat on their pitches, or becoming victims of their own circumstances.
South Africa too had many things to prove, except that they were on the other side. They were dominated and their lead at the top has been cut, but to a small extent, some of their players conquered an Indian pitch after having their pride pulled out from under them on the previous three Tests. "We understood the series was gone so we were hoping to gain something from this game and I think we gained something in terms of batting," Hashim Amla said.
In terms of runs, you would not say South Africa gained anything. They totaled under 150 in both innings as none of their batsmen reached 50 and their highest partnership was just 44. But in balls faced and minutes in the middle, South Africa gained confidence.
In total, their big three - Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis - faced more than 600 balls and spent 12-and-a-half hours at the crease in the second innings. Amla faced 244 balls in 12 minutes short of five hours, de Villiers faced 297 balls in 15 minutes short of six hours and and du Plessis faced 97 in three minutes short of two hours. All of them batted in bubbles that seemed impenetrable as they dead batted deliveries in a show of the discipline that South Africa have lacked on this tour.
"Nobody wants to block everything but the need of the time was for us to try and bat as long as we can and take as many risky shots out of the equation. It was unnatural to block as many full tosses and half-volleys as we did," Amla said. "But there is no selfishness involved in trying to do what needs to be done for the team."
What the team needed was not an attempt at victory, but a reminder of their valiance. "The determination was never lost. Every Test match is a very important game so you don't just throw your wicket away or submit the result. You try and fight for everything," Amla said. "I don't think anybody thought we would win. We felt that was the best way to save the game. It would have been easy to say, 'Let's go out and have some fun and get some runs under our belt,' but that gains nothing."
Instead it was about honing their mental game by "committing to the plan." That was something South Africa had not done with any great success in this series. They committed to preparing for spin, playing the ball as they saw it and attacking, but those plans did not work. Should they rather have committed to the ultra-conservatism that they employed here throughout the series? Not unless they only wanted to drag out the inevitable, according to Amla.
"If you block, you may survive but you are not going to score runs. I don't think we would have changed much," he said. "Maybe a few different shots but you need to score runs when you bat, especially in the first innings."
The other side of cricket is that you need to take wickets and at least there, South Africa did their bit.
"Our bowling has been exceptional on this tour. It has been a shining light to see Morne Morkel lead the attack in the absence of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander," Amla said "He has bowled some of the best spells of fast bowling I have seen in the subcontinent. And then the way Kyle Abbott came in; Kagiso came in and did well and our spinners did the job I am happy with the way our bowling responded in these conditions."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent