India vs South Africa: Survival was the victory, till it wasn't

Led by Wolvaardt and de Klerk, the Proteas women fought for a draw before falling short
India vs South Africa: Survival was the victory, till it wasn't

CHENNAI: Dunkirk is a harbor located in North France, on the shores of the English Channel, that separates the United Kingdom from mainland Europe. An industrial town now, the place was sold to the French by Charles II in 1662. But that's not what this place is known for. Dunkirk became a noun much later, during the Second World War. In May and June of 1940, to be precise, when Allied forces retreated to Dunkirk to get evacuated surrounded by German troops. Codenamed Operation Dynamo was a success. Then UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, called it a "miracle of deliverance" in his famous "We shall fight on the beaches" speech. Since then, Merriam-Webster defines Dunkirk (noun) as a retreat to avoid total defeat or a crisis situation that requires a desperate last effort to forestall certain failures.

If you look at the final result of the Test match between South Africa and India in Chennai alone, which the home side won on the fourth and final day by ten wickets, you would probably assume it was a business as usual. A dominant Indian side under the leadership of Harmanpreet Kaur had already beaten the likes of England and Australia in the recent past without much fuss. And a win without losing a single wicket sounds as dominating as it could get. But the devil, as they say, lies in the details.

After India posted a mountain of 603 runs in the first innings, which India clearly did so they did not have to bat twice on the tricky pitch that would put a lot of pressure on batters as the match progressed, South Africa had their work cut out for them. The only aim was to bat till they were bowled out. Their efforts in the first innings were monumental, no doubt about that, but that did not help South Africa avoid the follow on. India were 337 runs ahead and always going to force the follow on. It was the first chance for Kaur to directly assert her team's attacking mindset, and she took it with both hands. Afterall her bowlers, specially Sneh Rana and Deepti Sharma had bamboozled the visitors on day 3 morning. For South Africa, survival was not just the aim, it had become a necessity.

"I think obviously conceding over 500 runs on day one (was not ideal)," Laura Wolvaardt was brutally honest in the post match press conference. "The win was going to be very difficult from there with the pitch that was just getting slower and slower. I think when we were sent in to follow on, I think we still saw a chance to draw the Test match, which I think would have been a decent result considering that day one. We tried it back for as long as we could just to see if we could get close to day four and then to see how long we could last on day four," Wolvaardt added.

For the five and half sessions remaining in the Test, South Africa needed to bat, bat and bat more. One look at India's bowling options would tell you, this was always going to be the hardest thing they did on this tour of India. They were cornered. Survival was the victory. However, saying it and actually doing it were two different things.

Day three completely belonged to the duo of current and former leaders in Sune Luus and Wolvaardt. One of the positives for them when day four started was having Wolvaardt and Marizanne Kapp, the only other South African player to show some resistance in the first innings, were batting together. The captain was seven runs away from becoming the third woman to score a century in all three formats.

Day four started with a little drizzle and overcast conditions at Chepauk, and Wolvaardt checked the box with a lovely century off 259 balls. The joy was extended only for some 12 overs when Kapp fell to Sharma. It looked like the repeat of first innings was on the cards, when Delmi Tucker only lasted for three balls before Jemimah Rodrigues took a diving catch off Rana. There were murmurs in the press box if that was it? There is a thing about survival, South Africa had to survive for each and every ball, India had to be pitch perfect on only six occasions. Once Tucker was back, India were frustrated but in no hurry and did not care how the wickets came.

Nadine de Klerk
Nadine de KlerkP RAVIKUMAR

Then South Africa's survival instincts actually kicked in. Even when Wolvaardt fell, Nadine de Klerk stood in the middle like a Maclear's Beacon or Table Mountain from Cape Town. If India wanted to get better of South Africa, they had to go through de Klerk. The all rounder batted with all the lower order batters who had folded in front of Rana and Sharma like a pack of cards in the first innings. South Africa went past the opposition team's highest score against India under Kaur's leadership. Then they became the first team since 2002 to score 300+ runs in India. Then they went on to score the second highest score in an innings in India. All of this because de Klerk turned survival into a mode of her being for 185 deliveries.

Sharma bowled 45 overs. Rana bowled 40 overs. Rajeshwari Gayakwad bowled 30 overs. Even Kaur bowled 10 overs, but no one could break the 'Nadine Wall". "She’s an absolute great player to have on my team. She's only just starting to show what she can do with the bat. I feel she can really take the game away from the opposition in white ball, and now today to show that character that she did to really knuckle down for that long was amazing," Wolvaardt praised her teammate, who helped South Africa avoid an innings defeat.

And just like that after spending some 239 overs on the field, India finally broke the Nadine wall and dismissed South Africa for 373. And all of a sudden there was a possibility of only one result - it was India's win, which they cruised to by 10 wickets while chasing 37 runs. This was the win India deserved for multiple reasons, but they were challenged alright throughout the course of it. It might just be the sweetest one of them all.

It was always supposed to be this way. India absolutely dominating the opposition in the format, but the devil in the detail will tell you what survival mode can achieve. It changed the course of history in 1940, and it almost gave us the draw in Chennai in 2024.

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