Another Ashwin five-for as India wins by a record 337-run margin
On a pitch demanding discipline, India banked on its infallible warhead Ravichandran Ashwin’s five-wicket haul to trounce a defiant South Africa by a record margin of 337 runs on the fifth day of the fourth and final Test at the Ferozeshah Kotla here on Monday.
The victory was India’s biggest ever against South Africa. The host remained ‘invictus’ to win the Freedom Series, conceptualised as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, with a 3-0 verdict.
It also pushed India to second place in the ICC rankings.
Kohli and his men redeemed some pride after the M.S. Dhoni-led side had lost the T20I and ODI series against the same opponent.
The Proteas’ colossal series loss, the worst since their 3-0 reversal against Australia in 2005-06, was a crushing blow to their reputation as the No.1 Test team. Prior to this series, the South Africans had not lost an away series in nine years, earning the eminence of formidable travellers.
In the face of South Africa’s tenacious effort in the quest of a draw while chasing an improbable 481, India’s prospects of a win looked bleak.
It would have been excruciatingly painful for the visitors, overnight 72 for two off 72 overs, to bat out 90 overs on the final day.
Led by a stellar performance from A.B. de Villiers (43 from 297 balls), they went through an epic test of determination and patience before being dismissed for 143 in 143.1 overs.
The slowness of the pitch might not have assisted the bowlers but the uncertainty on a strip with plenty of wear and tear meant batting was never easy.
With Hashim Amla and de Villiers continuing with their act of blocking, India employed the spinners after taking the new ball in the ninth over. It worked.
Ravindra Jadeja provided the breakthrough with a five-over-old ball.
The left-armer hit the top of Amla’s off stump and ran about 30 yards in jubilation.
It brought to an end the slowest stand, worth 27 runs off 42.1 overs, in Test cricket for more than 200 deliveries.
Amla’s strike rate of 10.24 (25 in 244 balls) was the slowest in Tests for an innings spanning a minimum of 200 deliveries.
Jadeja asked frequent questions and Ashwin sowed seeds of doubt with his variations, including his change in run-up and bowling action.
Six men, excluding the wicketkeeper, around the bat were a constant feature as Test cricket witnessed a rare occurrence — more than 100 overs were bowled before the team’s aggregate could reach 100 runs.
Faf du Plessis overtaking Amla to open his account in 53 balls suited the occasion. du Plessis, who was adjudged lbw off Jadeja in the final session, consumed two hours for his 10 in a 35-run fourth-wicket partnership with the rock-solid de Villiers.
de Villiers won hearts with his unwavering focus and fantastic application. The explosive batsman was virtually unarmed while guarding his team’s interest.
Offering a dead bat, negotiating the occasional turn, staying put despite being hit by fast Umesh Yadav deliveries, the South African batting great added a new chapter of heroics to his illustrious career.
The visitors could not block out the inevitable for long as India sustained the pressure.
Resuming at 136 for five in the post-tea session, the Proteas lost five wickets in 5.1 overs.
Ashwin trapped J-P. Duminy on the back foot and Umesh, bowling a fiery spell, accounted for three tailenders in as many overs.
Ashwin signalled India’s triumph when he turned one sharply to have de Villiers caught at leg slip. He completed his 16th five-for and the fourth in the series by foxing Morne Morkel. The Indian team erupted in joy over the great win.