At the outset, in the wake of India’s sorry showing in the ODIs and their indifferent past Test record in South Africa, India were clearly the underdogs going into the Johannesburg game. And then the match commenced and fortunes fluctuated ever so many times during the five days.
India were favourites, then South Africa were favoured to win, then a draw looked the most likely verdict. The ding dong tussle underlined the very essence of Test cricket. And so it went on till the final pulsating denouement that saw South Africa almost create history.
They came within eight runs of notching up the highest ever successful run chase in Tests and to reach a final score of 450 for seven in the fourth innings was a stupendous feat. But India too had their phases of dominance in the Test and in the ultimate analysis a draw seemed a just result for neither side really deserved to lose.
What an epic Test! It was the sort of match that helps convert millions of hardcore fans who swear by Fifty50 and Twenty20 so that they can appreciate the several aspects of cricket's traditional format.
On numerous occasions in the recent past the cynics have written the obituary of Test cricket, advocating that it has no place in these days of instant and fast paced entertainment.
But Test cricket will never die because of matches like the rip roaring encounter at the Wanderers. The game indeed was the perfect advertisement for Test cricket, providing all unadulterated joy and beauty associated with it.
The match also underscored the other qualities that go into making Test cricket something for the connoisseur.
It was full of dramatic episodes that will live in memory - Virat Kohli just missing out on a hundred in each innings, the similar manner in which both India and South Africa collapsed in their first innings, the double century partnership between Cheteswar Pujara and Kohli which was surpassed in heroism by the double century stand between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers on the final day, Zaheer Khan's 300th wicket, the great Dale Steyn finishing with figures of no wicket for 104 in the second innings. Oh yes, it really had everything, the expected and the unexpected.
It really doesn’t matter that both sides are blaming each other for not going for a win. This is just being churlish and part of the mind games with one Test still to be played.
The game of cricket was the winner and whatever they may say off the field, on the field the players of both teams exhibited high standards of play and that was one of the reasons why the Test will remain in the minds of cricket followers for years to come.
If at all blame should be directed, it should be at the BCCI. Thanks to their ego clashes with the South African Board the series was cut from three Tests to two. At the time of releasing the revised schedule it seemed incongruous that the two best teams in the game should be playing just two matches.
Now in the aftermath of events at the Wanderers it seems just plain ridiculous. What could have been one of the great contests could just peter out into an anticlimax for with just one Test left in the series and with everything to play for, it is unlikely that the teams will adopt an adventurous approach.
Test cricket is like a long, well directed suspense film. The leisurely proceedings, players in white, day cricket and the red ball have provided a refreshingly different scenario from the surfeit of slam bang cricket.
There is an undying charm about Test cricket that still makes it the highest art form associated with this great game. The heightened suspense spread over five days, the fluctuating fortunes and the fact that bowlers are trying to take wickets and not restrict the runs are a few of the factors that one relishes.
Like an unputdownable whodunit, one cannot really guess the denouement. It is the one format of the game which provides genuine thrills and excitement, not the artificial variety associated with limited overs cricket.
It is not just the players who always maintain that Test cricket is the real thing, the game they would like to excel in. The purist and the traditionalist who have grown up on a staple diet of five day matches that sometimes do not produce a result even after 30 hours of play would certainly have enjoyed the events as they unfolded at Johannesburg.
Fortunately we have recently had quite a few matches that have been marked by the twists and turns that are so typical of Test cricket.
Twenty20 and Fifty50 are enjoyable as entertainment, good for the game and its finances and certainly they have a place in cricket. I too watch these games regularly but at the risk of being called old fashioned, let me say it again – there is no real substitute for Test cricket, the engrossing tussle between bat and ball and the elaborate strategic moves and tactical planning. I for one just cannot wait for the Durban Test to commence!