“For this Test match deserved yet another hero. It deserved all the heart-stoppages to go along with the play-stoppages. It deserved the flourishing end to rectify India’s reputation amongst the foreign locales, but most importantly Test cricket deserved a game where the smiles burst forth from deep within; encasing one with a joy that hardly any other can provide”.
It can be debated; it can be argued. It can be a matter that ignites sparks in discussions and it can bring up controversial views. But look back at some of the greatest moments that have been presented on a cricket field and the image will almost always be of a bunch of beings, adorned in the white flannels, celebrating their way to success. They have survived the ebbs and flows of the game; they have managed to live on through the challenges, fighting each session and each hour to their greatest ability. They have seen the match slip away; have witnessed the rival camp set up a base under the flag of their triumph, but instead of losing hope, they have united stronger than ever to stage a fightback that manages to bring an inexpressible smile.
As the world was busy following the unfolding of the extravagant auctions in the Indian Premier League, the “poorer” format of cricket was unfolding its own story far away in the wonderland of Johannesburg. For those who hardly cared, the lavish sprinkling of the big bucks on millionaires was what awaited them. For those who did, the human struggles of emotions and toil; of patience and perseverance gave way to a culmination that swept over all the gripping drama that the IPL had brought with it.
Starting the day with the loss of a wicket, the South African team set foot on the crease amidst heavy talks surrounding the unsafe nature of the pitch that would be their haven for the next few overs. A 119-run partnership between Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar unfurled hopes of a mighty comeback and with the twenty-two-yard strip hardly showing signs as menacing as those that were displayed on Day 3, hushed talks of the inevitable started doing the rounds back in India.
But oh well, they all had the safety net of the IPL to fall back on.
We, humans, are strange creatures indeed. We expect miracles; we expect success but when we are close to a finish that goes against our hopes, instead of revelling in our emotions, we look to avoid them and turn our attention to stranger things. And so, Gautam Gambhir’s move to Delhi Daredevils from Kolkata Knight Riders seemed more prolific. Ben Stokes’ bid ended up in prison jokes and the applause that should have ideally been reserved for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Virat Kohli were now being directed to youngster Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shubman Gill, who fetched a reasonable deal in this league.
But, it would be hypocrisy to suggest that the eyes did not swivel towards that TV channel. It would be an abject lie if one said that the result of the third Test match did not matter. It did. It sure did. It was not only a battle of gamesmanship; it was also one between the ego and the hearts. It was about pride and it was about might. It was about shutting all those mouths that had unanimously declared the Indian team as a team that hardly did well abroad. They were ridiculed. They were made into a joke. And even though, the eyes were fixed on that hammer and that money meter, hearts still fluttered high over the Wanderers, where eleven men were trying to correct just that.
Amla fell. AB de Villiers fell. Faf du Plessis fell. Quinton de Kock fell. All in twenty-one runs. The cream had vanished but the stubborn tail had to be wiped off as well. The player who had been criticised for being uninterested and for being lazy; for having failed to stand out from the legion of pacers in the line-up, entered the fray. A short length delivery accounted for a diligent Vernon Philander and a brilliant fuller ball that swung in castled Andile Phehlukwayo.
The lazy beast had woken up and his screams were a testimony to just that. It was a rage towards all those critics who had doubted his potential. It was a shout against the ones who questioned his place and most importantly, it was an angry resort towards his own self. For having failed to make this series his own. But the moment had yet not evaporated for Shami. In the 70th over of the innings, Elgar trusted Morne Morkel with the strike. All he had to do was survive two balls against a rampaging Shami and the rest would be taken care of. But that is the beauty of momentum. That is the beauty of self-confidence.
Elgar need not have worried about the giant-sized Morkel for two deliveries. Shami sent him back in the very first delivery that he faced; staging an exciting piece of deceptive bowling. With the field in play for an anticipated short ball, the bowler sent down a fiery Yorker that befuddled Morkel as much as it did his willow, which refused to keep the cherry away from the timber behind. Shami had passion written all over his face and as the momentum crept up, the script of an enticing folklore was being penned down rather poetically.
A few nasty hits from Elgar failed to save the day for the Proteans and as a short of a length delivery seamed away from the bat of Lungi Ngidi, resulting in a catch behind, the sea of supporters erupted in unison. Shami finished with a worthy haul of five wickets and years later, when the world remembers one of the greatest Test wins ever recorded by the Indian Test team, the “lazy” Shami’s name shall be highlighted in gold as well.
For this Test match deserved yet another hero. It deserved all the heart-stoppages to go along with the play-stoppages. It deserved the flourishing end to rectify India’s reputation amongst the foreign locales, but most importantly Test cricket deserved a game where the smiles burst forth from deep within; encasing one with a joy that hardly any other can provide.