'We've come up with our heads above water' - Smith
Graeme Smith has credited India for bouncing back and levelling the series, retaining the No. 1 Test team crown in the process, but he also praised his team for keeping the hosts waiting till almost the last minute.
"The game could have been easily over just after tea [on the first day] going by where we were sitting," Smith said. "If anything, we created pressure on India. In this series, they had everything to lose and we had everything to gain. So we have come up with our heads above the water in terms of what we have achieved."
However, Smith could not deny the fact that Thursday's result hurt South Africa, who once again came so close to winning a series in India for the second consecutive time as the home team escaped to series-levelling victory again in the final Test. Hashim Amla and Ashwell Prince started the final day confidently but once Prince fell to a rare rush of blood just before lunch, the onus was solely on Amla to carry on the visitors' resistance. Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel understood that all they needed to do was follow Amla's orders and they took the fight till the end.
"I think the grit and determination was there the whole day," Smith said. "The fact is we needed to come out and bat on a fifth-day wicket to save the Test match. Hashim is the glue who held it all together and we managed to find some guys to bat around him. Especially guys like Wayne and Morne, who got stuck in facing 50 to 60 balls, which is a terrific effort from a tailender under these conditions."
Smith felt the team had shown their will after the collapse after tea on the first day. Seven South African wickets fell from a position of 228 for 2 at the end of the second session; after the 100-plus partnership between Amla and debutant Alviro Petersen, the batting succumbed to pressure and good bowling.
"We just let ourselves down in the last session [on the first day] and gave India the advantage, which they took with both hands," Smith said. "We know that in the subcontinent it is very difficult to play catch-up cricket. Once we gave them the upper hand, they really drove the bus through the door."
Comparing the two Tests, Smith felt South Africa lacked precision in Kolkata, as opposed to the clinical victory in Nagpur. "We were not precise enough in our first innings with bat and ball. We dropped a few chances and we never really bowled in the right areas like we did in Nagpur."
Four catches and a stumping were missed during the Indian innings, resulting in four centuries from Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni. It was also surprising to see the waywardness of Dale Steyn, Morkel, Parnell and Paul Harris after their accuracy in the first Test. "They [India] scored at a high rate, which we weren't able to control with the ball, which probably was disappointing as well," Smith said. "We started the Test in a really solid way. At tea [on the first day], we were sitting really pretty. Then we just go into a situation where we lost two in-batters [Petersen and Jacques Kallis]."
Smith added the failure of rest of the middle order hurt the team's chances. "The guys coming in were lacking in confidence and suddenly wickets fell in a chunk and the pressure was created as it was the case with India in Nagpur where we were able to create pressure on them with the reverse swinging ball," he said.
He also confessed that the presence of Mark Boucher, sitting out with to a back injury, could have helped them take control of the situation. "Maybe, that is where we lacked someone with experience, someone like Mark [Boucher], who has played a huge amount of Test cricket," Smith said. "We just never had anyone who could stop the momentum that India gained in that last period. There were nine balls left but 20 minutes of play [as well]. The way India were getting through the overs we probably would have got another three or four overs after that."
Smith is returning home tonight, after being ruled out of the ODI series with a finger injury sustained on the eve of the second Test. Even if South Africa are likely to feel his absence, Smith had a positive message for his team. "The fact that we have been able to come and draw in India is a credit to in itself. If you look at recent stats and recent records of teams that have come here, not many teams have been able to push India like we have been able to push them in these conditions. So that is a positive for us and the credit to our character."