Captain Dean Elgar, with the help of Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma, tamed a wretch of a Wanderers pitch as he led South Africa to a remarkable seven-wicket win in the second Test against India on Thursday.
Chasing a daunting target of 240 on a deteriorating pitch, opening batsman Elgar shepherded his team to victory with 96 not out, a magnificent display of patience, composure and ability to absorb pressure.
South Africa had to not only deal with a top-class attack on a pitch offering variable bounce and movement off the surface, but also the agony of having to wait until 3.45pm before they could resume their innings on 118/2.
It had rained for most of the day at the Wanderers, sprucing up the pitch and also ensuring that the Proteas had to bat under completely overcast skies.
But the lengthy delay seemed to affect India’s focus more than South Africa’s. The Indian bowlers were poor on the fourth afternoon and they just could not bowl the number of deliveries in the right areas in order to create the wicket-taking opportunities that were undoubtedly there.
Elgar and Van der Dussen showed tremendous judgement and positivity as they added 57 runs in 14 overs on Thursday afternoon. Van der Dussen, considering the worries over his form, showed great temperament as he made a vital 40 off 92 balls in just over two hours at the crease.
Van der Dussen eventually fell to the sort of delivery everyone was warning about on this wearing pitch – back-of-a-length, rising sharply and jagging away – and try as he might to keep it down he could not help but send a low catch to second slip.
He left the scene with 65 more runs needed and vice-captain Bavuma then joined his skipper, a partnership that was always going to provide much grit and plenty of composure.
Failure has no parents, but perhaps the pivotal moment in South Africa’s highest ever fourth-innings run-chase at the Wanderers, and their sixth best in Test history, came when Bavuma, yet to get off the mark, drove firmly at Shardul Thakur, popping up a return catch. The bowler had it in his right hand, briefly juggled, and then the ball popped out.
Victory then came with astonishing ease and Elgar and Bavuma (23*) added 68 in little more than an hour, needing just 85 deliveries to finish a job most expected to be beyond this Proteas batting line-up.
The South African team can be immensely proud of how they stayed in the contest and, when conditions were at their toughest, they prevailed.