It looks as though the elements have given South Africa a lifeline in their attempt to keep their unbeaten record in Test series away from home alive — a run which stretches back to 2006. After being torn to pieces by the Indian spinners in a low-scoring first Test at Mohali, there was a very real chance that they would go 2-0 down in the four-match series as the first day of the second Test ended with India 80-0, just 134 runs behind their opponents.
However, not a ball has been bowled since. That gift from the heavens means that, with two Tests to go, the score is still 1-0 to India. South Africa cannot lose again and must win at least one Test if they are to avoid their first away series defeat in nine years.
Remembering South Africa’s Last Away Series Defeat
South Africa’s last away series defeat came in a two-Test classic against Sri Lanka. Both matches were memorable affairs in very different ways; both matches saw great individual displays with both bat and ball. A record which may never be broken was set, and the only disappointment was that more Tests couldn’t be played.
1st Test: July 27th-31st, 2006 at Colombo
South Africa won the toss and chose to bat on a turning wicket which offered plenty of runs and would start to crumble as the match went on. They wanted to put on an unassailable lead and then, using spinner Nicky Boje to tie up one end whilst the pace attack of Andre Nel, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini terrorised the Sri Lankan batsmen in short bursts, make Sri Lanka follow-on and win by innings.
Things could not have gone more differently. By tea time on day one, South Africa had been bowled out for 169 after 50.2 overs. Only AB de Villiers, who scored 65, performed at any respectable level. Dilhara Fernando and Muttiah Muralitharan took four wickets a piece and Farveez Maharoof took the other two, getting the scalps of Jacques Rudolph and Ashwell Prince in the process.
After tea, the young Dale Steyn removed Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya early on, leaving Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene at the crease with the score at 14-2 and their side in trouble. For the next 157 overs, the South African bowlers got rather used to the sight of those two as they made history in incredible fashion.
At that point, the record for the highest partnership in Test cricket was 576; held by Sri Lankans Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama. The two put the stand on against India in 1997, and it was a record which was likely to stand for a while yet. Sangakkara and Jayawardene had other ideas.
The two stayed together for a staggering eleven hours and fifteen minutes, scoring 624 runs at nearly four runs an over. By the time Sangakkara was dismissed by Andrew Hall for 287, Sri Lanka were 638-3. However, the South African bowlers were by no means given a break after that: Jayawardene continued to tear them to pieces as he scored 374 — the fourth highest individual score in Test cricket history.
What was most impressive about that 624 partnership — a stand which may never be beaten — was that the runs were scored so quickly. Both Sangakkara and Jayawardene had strike rates of over 60, meaning that the Sri Lankan bowlers had plenty of time to bowl South Africa out. When they declared on 756-5 there were still more than two days to go.
South Africa had to reach a mammoth 588 just to make Sri Lanka bat again, and their attempt to do so was an admirable one. With the exception of Murali, who finished with figures of 6-131, the Sri Lankan bowlers struggled to pick up wickets as South Africa reached 434 all out, meaning they lost the game by an innings and 153 runs.
If you have time to yourself, it would be well worth looking at the wagon wheels of Sangakkara’s and Jayawardene’s innings, along with all the other statistics for the match. Brief highlights of Mahela’s 374 can be found online, though they don’t quite do the innings justice.
2nd Test: August 4th-8th, 2006 at Colombo
South African won the toss and chose to bat again, and had considerably more success than the first Test. Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga dismissed both South African openers for ducks, but after that the tourists recovered to finish day one 361 all out. AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince were the top scores with 86 and 95 respectively, and a quickfire 32 from Mark Boucher as well as an impressive 57 from number eight by Shaun Pollock meant that the Proteas’ total was a competitive one. Murali once again did most of the work for his team, bowling a third of the overs and picking up five wickets.
Sri Lanka were not able to dominate their first innings as in the first Test, and Sangakkara and Jayawardene only scored 27 runs between them. A devastating performance by Ntini and Steyn, who ended the innings with 4-84 and 5-82 respectively, reduced the hosts to 191-7, but a game-saving century stand by Maharoof and Vaas, both of whom scored fifties, meant that Sri Lanka reached 321 all out, forty runs behind.
When South Africa batted again, Muralitharan turned the innings into something of a one-man mission. He bowled 46.5 of the 107.5 overs, picking up a staggering 7-97 in the process. Unfortunately, the rest of the bowlers could not support him, sharing just the solitary wicket between them. A strong 92 from Herschelle Gibbs and a swift 65 from Boucher meant that South Africa were bowled out for 311, leaving Sri Lanka a difficult 352 to chase over the course of just under two days.
Throughout the whole fourth innings, the match stayed in the balance. Tharanga was dismissed early, but a 39 from Sangakkara and Jayasuriya’s 73 off 74 balls meant that after 28 overs Sri Lanka were already 121-3. Mahela Jayawardene batted brilliantly once again, but did not receive much support from Dilshan and Chamara Kapugedera. The score was 201-5 when another Jayawardene, this time Prasanna, came into bat.
The two Jayawardenes batted the rest of day four, putting on 61 in the process. Sri Lanka ended the penultimate day 262-5, needing 90 runs to win with five wickets and, more importantly, the great Mahela still in hand. The final day would be a short but tense one.
Early on day five, Prasanna was dismissed for 30 leaving the score at 279-6. A stubborn support act from Maharoof meant that Jayawardene was able, slowly but surely, to reduce his side’s target. Eventually, Boje dismissed him for a brilliant 123, meaning that Sri Lanka needed just eleven runs with three wickets remaining.
However, Andrew Hall turned the game on its head in just one over. He dismissed Vaas and Murali for just six runs between them, and suddenly Sri Lanka needed two runs with one wicket remaining. Both sides could win and a tie was still a distinct possibility. One slip-up from either side would decide the match. South Africa could not afford to concede any runs if they wanted to save the series; Sri Lanka needed one run to secure a famous series win and two to win the match. They could not afford to lose a wicket without scoring.
Nicky Boje would bowl the critical over, with Maharoof on strike. The first ball was played and missed as the batsman tried to sweep his side to victory, but there was no chance of a wicket. The ball after, Maharoof decided the series by picking up a single after a drive over the bowler’s head. South Africa could still avoid a series clean sweep by keeping the scores level, but the very next ball Malinga drove the ball to long on to win the match and the series 2-0.
Since then, South Africa have become invincible away from home. But that series will live long in the memory both for Sangakarra’s and Jayawardene’s sensational stand and the tense finale of the second Test.