South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg, 4th day December 21, 2013

South Africa take heart from past battles

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 correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manesh on December 22, 2013, 8:51 GMT

    Peterson gone bowled even though he survived last ball with the help of umpire. Well done Shami. Keep doing that.

  • Logan on December 22, 2013, 6:52 GMT

    All this pep talk about SA having a chance of winning / drawing the match will backfire,simply this has been drilled into the heads of the players by the coach & assistant.Now there is added pressure on the remaining 8 to live up to this expectations.

    We saw how the surface is playing,even a set batsmen cannot score freely and is never in due to the variable bounce,hence the fall of wickets in clusters.All indian bowlers will come into play on the 5th day.good luck to SA if they survive half the day

  • Android on December 22, 2013, 5:24 GMT

    I don't know what the south Africans are truly feeling but I think this s going to be really difficult... back then in Adelaide du plessis was in top form and he also got valuable support from the lower order which is more of a luck factor... so the only reliable guy for SA who can turn the game is AB .... he can bat through the day and also accelerate if needed... hence he is the big fish and obviously needs to be dismissed early... Petersen might have played well yesterday but I doubt if he will replicate the same today .. then there is kallis who has become more of a black horse(ironically given his stats) and there s every chance that he will bat through to a big innings here... good that we got amla yesterday.... summing up I think India can win this if they get kallis and AB cheaply... duminy faf and the tail can't hang around for long after that... good luck India... but in any case you have proved your critics a draw or a win ....India will be the happier side!

  • Rahul on December 22, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    I guess SAF should leave the tough talking and mantle games to Aussies. SAF have never been good at it. The worlds best and fastest bowler has the figures of "56-12-165-1" in this match. All the big talk from AB and Steyn has misfired spectacularly at SAF toughest fortress. From here on even tough SAF manage to draw the test still it will be sort of moral victory for the India who were expected to be all out on the 1st session of the test match. When you are trying to save a test and you do not send your 'Rock of Gibraltar' to bat at his usual position then it makes for a defensive mind set.You can talk tough off the field but it is actually in the middle where you have to walk the talk. It would have been wiser on SAF behalf to acknowledge that they are on the ropes and from here on it is tough challenge for them to bat for a whole day on 5th day surface.

  • Ranga on December 22, 2013, 4:23 GMT

    SA can win this. At least a 20% probability.

  • VaRUN on December 22, 2013, 2:24 GMT

    All the talk of an SA win is just madness. Only question is if SA can add another 100 runs! Mark my words, match will most likely be over in 45 overs.

  • Shashidhar on December 22, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    What a turn around! We used to see such comments from Indian teams of the past. Now SA is trying to save test at one of their favourite grounds. Immaterial of the result, this Indian team has showed lot of guts and is making statements thru it's on field performance. Can't wait or the final days play.

  • Vinod on December 21, 2013, 23:31 GMT

    A remarkable day of hard fought real test cricket ahead, the 4 prev days were absolute fabolous days, shows why test cricket is the gold standard. The main part i liked was this is played in tough, competitive but under good spirits and none of the macho posturing, boorish behaviour that was prevlant in the the english summer ashes and currently on display in spades in the oz summer. Any ways, to this game, All 4 results possible - SAffers have shown good figthing spirit especially Alviro, first session will be crucial to see how the game progresses, this battle is worthy of the top two teams in world cricket......looking forward to a riveting, compelling day where skills and sportsmanship are on offer, GO INDIAAAAA!

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