Haunted by their past, Proteas looked to be safe rather than sorry
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The final moments of South Africa's engrossing run chase against India were an illustration of the very best that Test cricket can offer. For four days India had, to the surprise of many in the cricket world, locked eye to eye with South Africa, occasionally causing the mighty hosts to flinch. And then on the fifth, two old friends and fine cricketers mounted what should have been the very best run chase in the history of our glorious sport. They fell marginally short, as valiant warriors sometimes do, but they brought their team to the very edge of the impossible. Somebody only needed to walk across the victory line.
But it didn't happen and in the instant when the shutters were drawn, in the mind more than on the field, you realised that the contest wasn't just bat vs ball, a team vs another, but one team against its perception of itself. With 16 needed from 19 balls, one decent batsman in with a battler for company, a genuine tail-ender in the hut with another who could barely run but, critically, wasn't a bad blocker South Africa took a backward step. The demons must have been raging in the mind but this was the opportunity to vanquish them. Instead, South Africa opted not to lose rather than try to win.
Let's look at it from their point of view first. The batsmen in had to ensure they didn't lose, if they went for glory and lost the match, it would have recalled the wounds of the world cup of 1999. But in playing safe, they didn't keep the game alive by knocking singles, they shut the door. They told the opposition they weren't keen to take the chance.
Now, look at it from the point of view of the opposition. They have set the home side a most unlikely 458 to win. That guaranteed a win, at worst it meant they took the honours as the other side huffed and puffed to merely save a game. Now, suddenly they are faced with defeat, with the prospect of conceding the highest fourth innings winning score in the history of the game. This is a side that hasn't been able to defend 350 in a 50 over game. From being comfortable, they are faced with demons too.