At Johannesburg, December 18-22, 2013. Drawn. Toss: India.
An astonishing match had the tamest of endings as both teams shied away from victory. When du Plessis was run out, South Africa needed 16 runs off 19 balls. India needed three wickets. South Africa had been asked to chase a world-record 458; India had the chance to stave off that ignominy, and to set up a first series victory in South Africa. Instead, everyone unscrewed their courage from its sticking place.
Philander and Steyn blocked three of those last 19 deliveries, left three others, and declined three singles off three more. Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Shami bowled five harmless short deliveries, and three more balls wide of the stumps, and never to a field set with more than two fielders in catching positions. The players were booed off by a gouty crowd, who were still in dark voice when Smith returned for his television interview.
As if they knew they had blundered but couldn't bring themselves to admit it, both teams tried to blame the other for the diabolical draw. "India were ahead of the game; they would be very disappointed that they didn't win it," Smith said. "I'd be surprised if M. S. [Dhoni] didn't feel his bowlers should have won that game." Smith also wondered why India "didn't have four slips, a short leg and a gully" in the final overs. Undeterred, Kohli insisted: "We were pretty shocked. Vernon Philander was hitting the ball well and we know Dale Steyn can bat."
Kohli had been the focus ahead of the match, India's first Test since Sachin Tendulkar's retirement. What would he make of his opportunity? By the first evening, he had a new career-best score, of 119 - and the world had its answer. Poised and purposeful, Kohli did not offer a chance in an innings of calm courage against hostile bowling, which had begun at 24 for two. His most serious error was to change his mind about a single too late for Pujara to scramble back to safety, so ending a third-wicket stand of 89.
The pitch did not give the players nearly as much as it took. It demanded the full focus of all who bowled and batted, hence India's neither-here-nor-there 255 for five at stumps. But South Africa had made "this team finds a way" part of their mantra, and did exactly that on the second morning: after waiting nine overs for the breakthrough, they took the last five wickets for 16 in 25 balls. Philander, who had been moaning publicly about toothache since the previous midnight, vented his mood on the batsmen in a fine recitation of swerve and verve.
But the bowlers remained on top and, by the close on the second day, South Africa had crashed to 213 for six. With bizarre symmetry, they also lost five for 16, three wickets tumbling at 130. Amla had left an inswinger from Ishant Sharma and was bowled, and with his next delivery Sharma inflicted on Kallis only the second first-ball duck of his career, by trapping him in front. Smith shone out of the gloom with a defiant 68 before being dismissed by Zaheer Khan for the 14th time in 26 matches across all formats. Zaheer had poleaxed Smith with a blow to the knee early in his innings, and Smith was also dropped at first slip on 19, before surviving another screamer through the cordon. By the time he was removed, lbw to a delivery more likely to have hit leg slip than leg stump, he had bucked the trend of the innings for more than three hours.
Philander now replicated the spirit he had shown with the ball, scoring 59 before becoming one of Zaheer's four victims. But South Africa lost their last four wickets for 18 on the third morning, to concede a deficit of 36. By stumps, India had built their lead to 320, by scoring 175 in 38 overs in the third session. Pujara and Kohli had put them in complete control.
To make matters worse for South Africa, Morkel had left the field with a badly twisted ankle. Meanwhile, Amla kept wicket for the first time in Tests, when de Villiers was called on to bowl for the first time since 2006. Closer to normality was a record for Philander who, in his 19th Test, became the fastest South African to 100 wickets. Next day, Pujara and Kohli took their partnership to 222, before Kallis had Pujara caught behind for 153 by de Villiers, now restored to the keeper's role. Kohli failed by four runs to become the first Indian No. 4 to score a century in each innings of a Test, when he edged a cut off Duminy, and Rohit Sharma was Kallis's 292nd and final Test victim. India were dismissed after lunch, a touch carelessly perhaps, and by the close South Africa had whittled their target down to 320.
They had eight wickets in hand at the start of the fifth day, but quickly lost Petersen for his overnight score of 76. Midway through the morning session, Kallis was given out lbw by Rod Tucker to make Zaheer the fourth Indian, after Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, to take 300 Test wickets. Kallis, though, had clearly edged the ball, and walked off screaming blue murder.
At 197 for four, South Africa teetered on the edge. But they regrouped in a stand of 205 between du Plessis and de Villiers. India began to panic, and Dhoni - in his 50th Test as captain, breaking Sourav Ganguly's Indian record - tried everything. He even brought himself on to bowl: this was the first Test in which both wicketkeepers enjoyed a trundle. De Villiers chopped on to Sharma for 103 and, with 16 needed, Rahane ran out a sprawling - and by now exhausted - du Plessis from mid-off for 134. With only the injured Morkel and the rabbit Imran Tahir still to come, Philander and Steyn had to make a decision. Then the fun started. Steyn's last-ball six, hit with angry eyes, suggested he did not appreciate the crowd's jeers. The Second Test at Durban could not come soon enough.
Man of the Match: V. Kohli.