India deserve a pat on the back. For the first time in history, they have held South Africa to a drawn Test series while touring the Rainbow Nation. It's been a hard-fought three Tests. The scales tilted in regular alternation as each side strove to wrest the momentum and initiative from the opponent. India did well to come back from a match down to level the series in a rip-rollicking, lip-smacking second Test, at Durban.
But after all the fireworks through the three encounters, after the explosive batting and the wicket-tumbles, after the semi-collapses and the defiant recoveries, the culminating day at Cape Town, on Jan 6, was quite a dud. In a match which saw three five-wicket hauls and the same number of centuries, one would have hoped for a more engaging and exciting finish.
It could be argued that South Africa had sealed the draw on Day 4 itself. After all, India had the hosts on the mat at 100/5. But the patience and resolve of Jacques Kallis accompanied by some gutsy support from the latter-order, deprived India of sustaining its advantage. By the time, South Africa had recovered and set India the stiff target of 340 for victory with just one day to bat, the tourists must have thought that the victory score was a bridge too far.
But India should have embarked on at least a tentative quest for a win. At least for the sake of the spectators they should have played a tad bit more adventurously and put up a more engaging show. While it was obviously imperative that they preserve their wickets, they should at the same time, at least been in the hunt for victory and given themselves an outside chance of the same.
But all the batsman, especially the dasher - Virender Sehwag - were uncharacteristically restrained in their batting. While the required run-rate to reach the victory target in the day's span of 90 overs was 3.5, India were crawling along at under 2-and-a-half, in an utterly defeatist mode. What augmented that mindset was the painfully slow batting of Rahul Dravid. He made 31 off 112 balls - the resultant strike rate 10 percentiles less than his series' average of around about 37!
But perhaps what was even more bizarre was after Sehwag, Dravid and Gautam Gambhir got out, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman continued in the same vein of very defensive batting. Even as Graeme Smith removed several fielders from the outfield and plonked them in close-in positions, the batsmen were not inclined to play aggressive strokes.
Given that this match in all likelihood was the Little Master's swansong in South Africa, he should have felt obliged to put on a more engaging show. But he was evidently reluctant to put his wide repertoire of shots to use and was simply resigned to the one drab forward-defensive. Even Laxman was more enterprising in his knock.
However, on the other hand, it could be contended that the wicket was turning unpredictable, especially judgeing from the low bounce that enabled Tendulkar's spin to fox Mark Boucher on Day 4. So India had to keep their guard up at all times and prepare for the contingency of a possible onsalught by the deadly Proteas' pacemen.
So, all in all, perhaps India did the the right thing by just playing out a dull last day and ensuring the draw. But one still can't help but feel that the match was poised for a more exhilarating conclusion and a culmination befitting such a fantastically competitive series. However, this series as New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori had suggested was indeed India's "final frontier". The world No. 1 team retains its status at the top of the table and seems equipped to stay there for a long time to come.