AB de Villiers (left) and South African skipper Hashim Amla were unbeaten on 23 and 11 off 207 and 91 balls respectively © AFP
AB de Villiers (left) and South African skipper Hashim Amla were unbeaten on 23 and 11 off 207 and 91 balls respectively © AFP

South Africa have lost the series against India, and looked set to lose the final game as well. But, after a series full of tame surrenders, they gave a glimpse of the grit that made them a Test powerhouse in overseas conditions. The pitch was misbehaving and the ball was playing its tricks, but South Africa had their goals defined. Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma and AB de Villiers defended one ball after another, and exhibited incredible solidity and surreal patience as they stonewalled the South African innings. The play was slow, but not painful. In fact it was testimony that the slow game can be thoroughly gripping, the point of which is elucidated further by Rishad D’souza. LIVE CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs South Africa 2015, 4th Test in Delhi

The penultimate day of the fourth and final Test between India and South Africa began at appreciable pace, with Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli putting on display some classy shots with amazing frequency. Rahane brought up yet another ton, with Kohli falling just 12 short of the milestone. With a lead of 480 to fall back on, Kohli did not waste another ball to call curtains on the innings after Rahane reached the three-figure mark for the second time in the match. Given how poorly South Africa had negotiated the spin demons on this tour so far, it was expected of them to fold cheaply. This feeling was compounded by the fact that South Africa had little to play for as the series was already lost, and a win in this match was out of question. UPDATES: India vs South Africa 2015, 4th Test in Delhi, Day 4

When Dean Elgar was cheaply removed for just four runs off 17 balls by     Ravichandran Ashwin, the feeling that the South African innings would end in a now-familiar narrative was intensified. But Hashim Amla and Temba Bavuma had other plans. Amla decided to unleash the power of the dead bat and Bavuma followed suit. As the overs passed by, South Africa’s intentions became clear; they were going for a respectable draw.

The number of runs scored was going neck-to-neck with the overs. South Africa batted on with the single-minded ambition of achieving a draw. The Indian spinners, perhaps a little puzzled by this sudden display of determination after its absence for better part of the Test series, began to grow desperate. They did not show it blatantly, but it was evident in their actions and body language. South Africa’s run rate was only hovering around one an over and yet they were under an assault of sorts.

However, Ashwin continued to produce the timely gems and one such ball happened to do enough to fox Bavuma and disturb his off stump. The flighted delivery by Ashwin pitched along the off-stump, and Bavuma played inside the line in anticipation of spin, which was completely absent in this case. The ball straightened and Bavuma’s walk back to the pavilion was signalled by the sound of bail hitting ground. One vigil was brought to a close. India had many more to breach. For a purist, this was as exciting as could get.

Bavuma’s wicket brought AB de Villiers to the crease. De Villiers happens to be the man with the record for fastest fifty, fastest hundred and fastest 150 in One-Day International (ODI) cricket. The ever-destructive AB had to go out of character and opt for a defensive approach. He gave account of his versatility for his effort at relentlessly defending turning balls was as convincing as that of Amla at the other end.

The magical duo batted out some fine spin bowling. They survived a few nervy moments — which happened to be the case with every delivery that they faced. By the end of play, Amla had scored 23 runs of 207 balls and de Villiers had 11 runs to his name of 91 balls. They talked and laughed as they walked towards the pavilion because they had a battle was won. In 72 overs of play in the South African innings, fittingly just 72 runs had been scored. Importantly South Africa went to stumps with eight wickets in hand and more crucially they went with a lot of self-belief. Yet, the next day they will have to walk out with the same intent.

As for the Indian bowlers, they committed no wrong. The accuracy and guile was available in adequate measure, but on the day their determination was overcome by that of the South African batsmen. Ten wickets seemed like a cakewalk before the South African innings began and now eight more wickets seems like a daunting ask.

Despite there being nothing to play for, South Africa gave good account of the very traits that had seen them climb the top rung in the Test rankings for so long. The spirit that made them an unbeatable force in overseas Tests for nine-long years was put on scintillating display. Day Five promises to be another day of supreme challenge for the Proteas but as Temba Bavuma said in a presser after Day Four’s play either way “South Africa will go down fighting.”