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South Africa v India, 1st Test, Johannesburg

December 27, 2013

The Wanderers 'What if?'

Bimalka Liyanarachchi

Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers put South Africa on the cusp of a spectacular win, but circumstances convinced their team-mates to back off © Getty Images

The cricketing world held its collective breath as AB de Villers and Faf du Plessis set about creating history on what was expected to be a treacherous fifth day track at the Wanderers. I wouldn't be the only person to admit to a sense of anti-climax when Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn decided to shut shop with three overs to go, an excruciating 16 runs away from victory, and a short step away from folklore and legend.

Let us get one thing straight: South Africa's effort was of the highest order. They should have lost the Test, but instead ground out a creditable draw. As Graeme Smith later revealed, the decision to whether play for a draw or pursue a win was left to the batsmen on the field. So why did Philander and Steyn, both attacking quick bowlers in their day jobs, decide that the risk of losing the Test was too big? You could 'almost' see their thinking: India could have won the Test in 3 balls considering what was left in the shed - a quick bowler on one leg, and a spinner who is a genuine No. 11.

But the chance of sporting immortality is only presented upon men once or twice in their careers. Smith predictably stuck to the party line as he reiterated his support for the stance his batsmen took, but there will be many in that team who went back to their hotel room wondering 'What if?' It's a thought that will probably stay with them for a long while, possibly for the rest of their lives.

It was still a great Test, but it could have been one of the greatest ever, possibly the greatest ever any of the 22 players would ever be involved in. We've read the stories of Benaud, Davidson, Hall and Worrell at the Gabba in 1960, and of Shastri, Maninder Singh and Greg Matthews at Chepauk in 1986. Our children would have read about de Villiers, du Plessis, Kohli, Pujara and Philander at the Wanderers in 2013. They still might, and would forever wonder what could have been, and history will struggle to explain why it finished the way it did.

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