JOHANNESBURG, Dec 22 (PTI): The first cricket Test between India and South Africa ended in a nail-biting draw but not before the home team very nearly pulled off a world record run chase on the final day of an extraordinary match, here today.
Set a stiff target of 458 for victory, the hosts rode on centuries from Faf du Plessis (134) and AB de Villiers (103) to very nearly pull off a sensational victory but in the end fell short by just eight runs. In a riveting match, which saw fortunes fluctuating from one team to the other till the very end, both teams had chances of winning the game in the nerve-wrecking final session on a Wanderers track, which showed no signs of deterioration even on the final day.
Indian needed to take eight wickets today but a stunning 205-run partnership between Du Plessis and De Villiers denied the visitors a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series. South Africa sniffed a historic win on the back of their fifth-wicket partnership as they inched closer to the improbable target of 458 runs, which if achieved would have been the biggest ever successful run chase in Test history.
The highest successful run chase in Test cricket has been achieved by West Indies who scored 418 for seven to beat Australia in St Johns in 2003.
At one stage, it looked like the Proteas would romp home as they needed just 64 runs from the final 16 overs with six wickets in hand but Ishant Sharma bowled De Villiers and Mohammed Shami dismissed JP Duminy before Du Plessis� run out in 133rd over.
It prompted South Africans to not take further risk and go for a draw.
Plessis�s knock came off 309 balls with 15 boundaries while De Villiers faced 168 balls and hit 12 boundaries.
It was a remarkable Test match and the Indians would feel that they let go a good opportunity to record a famous Test win on foreign soil particularly after the drubbing in the preceding ODI series.
The two teams will now travel to Durban, where the second and final Test will begin from Thursday.
For India, Shami (3/107) was the pick of the bowlers. After dismissing Jacques Kallis for his 300th wicket in 89 Tests, Zaheer Khan (1/135) proved expensive on the final day of the match, even as Sharma (1/91) toiled hard.
R Ashwin (0/83), the lone spinner, did not provide any breakthroughs as the fifth day pitch evened out for batting.
South Africa started the last session of the day needing another 127 runs for a historic win. MS Dhoni gave a bowl to Kohli, interchanging the ends for Zaheer and Ishant who he deployed first up.
It was a surprise move since Shami had not bowled since the 88th over of the innings, whilst Zaheer had bled runs since the new ball had been taken in the 80th over.
The 150-run partnership came in the 111th over then, along with the 350-run mark. Two overs later, du Plessis celebrated his third Test hundred.
When his pairing with de Villiers breached the 178-run mark, it became the highest fifth wicket partnership in the fourth innings of a Test match.
The previous best was 177 by B Congdon and V Pollard for New Zealand against England at Nottingham in 1973. 61 runs had come in the first hour after tea and only 66 more runs were needed in the final hour spanning 15 overs.
De Villiers completed his 18th Test hundred in the 121st over and in the next, the 200-run partnership came up. The 400-run mark was up too, with 58 runs to win.
Finally Shami was back in the 123rd over, after an inexplicable gap of 34 overs. It showed immediately as he made the batsmen skip with awkward bounce on incoming deliveries.
Maybe it helped as de Villiers was bowled in the next over by Ishant, bringing an end to his partnership with du Plessis. At the other end, Shami bowled JP Duminy (5).
It was left to du Plessis to see this through and he nearly did, in the company of Vernon Philander (25 not out, 37 balls, 3 fours). But at the sight of victory, in the 133rd over, du Plessis was run-out via a direct hit from mid-off by Ajinkya Rahane.
India 1st innings: 280
South Africa 1st innings: 244
India 2nd innings: 421
South Africa 2nd innings: AN Petersen b Shami 76; GC Smith run out 44; HM Amla b Shami 4; F du Plessis run out 134; JH Kallis lbw b Khan 34; AB de Villiers b I Sharma 103; JP Duminy b Shami 5; VD Philander not out 25; DW Steyn not out 6; Extras: (b 2, lb 7, w 8, nb 2) 19; Total: (7 wickets; 136 overs) 450
Fall of wickets: 1-108, 2-118, 3-143, 4-197, 5-402, 6-407, 7-442. Bowling: Z Khan 34-1-135-1, I Sharma 29-4-91-1, Mohammed Shami 28-5-107-3, R Ashwin 36-5-83-0, M Vijay 1-0-3-0, MS Dhoni 2-0-4-0, V Kohli 6-0-18-0.