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Firdose Moonda in Johannesburg
December 21, 2013
There will be fight all the way - Birrell
A year and a month ago, almost to the day, South Africa finished the fourth day of a Test on 77 for 4, trailing Australia by 353 and staring at a heavy defeat. That evening in Adelaide, Russell Domingo, who was then the assistant coach, said South Africa's chances were "probably out of the window," and the team appeared to have accepted defeat.
That was not to be. Faf du Plessis led the defiance campaign against Australia to secure a hard-fought draw. South Africa have not been involved in a Test that has gone to the fifth day since. Until now.
Domingo is now the head coach, and South Africa have finished the fourth day on 138 for 2, trailing India by 319, but they do not believe they will be beaten. Their assistant coach Adrian Birrell brought nothing but fighting talk to the press conference.
"We are drawing on past experiences and we believe we can do it. We've shown resilience, we batted a whole day before," he said. "This team has done remarkable things in the past and we get a bit of a lift from that. It would be a remarkable thing if we can do it again."
Last year, Australia had been a bowler down after James Pattinson left the field with a rib injury and the pitch stayed placid throughout the game. India's arsenal, however, is fully fit and the Wanderers surface has shown signs of variable bounce with the cracks opening up, making chances of salvaging something from this Test more difficult.
With India scoring more freely in the second innings than they did in the first, Birrell is hopeful the surface will not become a minefield. "When you are in, runs flow. It's a high scoring ground, you get value for shots," he said. "The pitch doesn't have too many demons, we know we can survive there and get runs there."
With a set batsmen in Alviro Petersen and the man who did it in Adelaide, du Plessis, at the crease, Birrell believed South Africa have the best people at the crease to start the final morning. Both are men under pressure. Petersen had not scored more than 30 in ten innings before this one, while du Plessis' last fifty was seven innings ago.
Petersen has already eased some of the load by surviving a challenging period, scoring briskly and passing fifty. "Alviro played fantastically today. He is well placed for a big score," Birrell said. "They are both fighters, they are not going to give it away. It's a great opportunity for both of them to play a meaningful and long innings."
Spending time in the middle is South Africa's primary aim, and Birrell advocated the importance of taking it step by step. "It's not an easy task to bat a full day. All we are doing is saying, let us have a look at the end of every session," he said. "We didn't look at 135 overs when we started. We looked at seeing it to tea with as little damage as possible." South Africa got to the first break having faced 11 overs for no loss.
Next, they will look to bat the first hour and then the morning session - something which du Plessis had described in Adelaide, when the team survived 148 overs in four-and-a-half sessions to save the Test. "We are still well placed to bat through the whole day," Birrell said. "We don't look at the bigger picture, we try and look in smaller bits."
In Adelaide a draw was the realistic goal, but with the runs South Africa need here, if they bat out the full day victory is not impossible. Birrell indicated they knew as much but stressed the primary goal was to draw. "We just bat. We are thinking of batting long. The runs will come. If we do bat 90 overs, it will be a fantastic game," he said. "At the moment we are thinking draw but you never know. If we bat the full day and we bat at the rate we normally bat at, we won't be far away. We will worry about that when we are 85 overs."
Before that, many other things will come into consideration. Dealing with India's fresh bowlers will be one of them. Negotiating a second new-ball after lunch will be another, and fatigue - physical and mental - will also play a role. Already, they are guarding against the last of those.
South Africa did not send Jacques Kallis in at No.4 because he had bowled more than his usual quota of overs, and the management felt that "an extra night's rest would be of benefit to him." They didn't promote AB de Villiers either because he had kept wicket all day.
"We've been under the pump before. They are professionals. You expect every time you start a Test, it will go the full distance," he said. "It's another hard day tomorrow. But there is a lot of fight in that dressing room. There will be fight all the way."
When they held Australia at arm's length in Adelaide, South Africa punctured the hosts' confidence, and du Plessis believed it played a role in them winning in Perth. Given that the deciding Test against India is in Durban, where South Africa have lost their last four matches, they will want a similar morale-booster.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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