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South Africa dreams of another great escape

December 22, 2013

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Just over a year ago, Faf du Plessis batted for nearly eight hours on debut to save a test for South Africa against Australia in Adelaide, a draw the Proteas remember like it was one of their best victories.

On South Africa’s 2008 tour Down Under, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy got their team to 414 in the fourth innings at Perth for the second highest successful last-innings run chase ever in tests.

Under severe pressure against India at the Wanderers on Sunday —and needing a massive 320 more runs to win on the final day with eight wickets left — the South Africans remember both those Australian experiences now and say they are drawing from them as they look for a way out of another tough, almost hopeless situation.

“There are experiences in that change room,” South Africa assistant coach Adrian Birrell said on Saturday. “This team have done remarkable things in the past and we get a bit of a lift from that, that we have achieved remarkable things and it would be a remarkable thing to bat through (Sunday). But we know we can do it.”

South Africa’s outwardly positive attitude toward its near-impossible task is understandable. What else can they think?

“It’s not going to be easy, but we’re confident we’re going to do it,” Birrell said.

Smith, often South Africa’s savior in fourth innings efforts, was out for 44 late Saturday. De Villiers and Duminy are still to bat. Opener Alviro Petersen was set on 76 not out overnight and Du Plessis — the Adelaide hero — was with him at the crease at the start of the day. There’s also the immensely experienced Jacques Kallis.

That gives South Africa a glimmer, and not much more, of hope that they can hold out the Indians, who set the home team a mammoth 458 to win the Johannesburg test after batting supremely in their second innings. South Africa ended the fourth day 138-2.

“They’re both fighters,” Birrell said of the men at the crease. “Faf ... he’s had tremendous experience and he’s also batted a whole day before.”

The entire South African lineup had “shown resilience” in the past, Birrell said.

South Africa accepts that India has played far better cricket through the opening test, but Sunday gives the home team a chance to win a mini-battle that would give it a major boost for the second test in the short two-match series in Durban.

After those game saves in Adelaide and Perth, South Africa went on to win both series in Australia, and it likes this kind of fight.

“In a game like this, every session is a match in itself,” Birrell said. “We’ve been under the pump before ... and we’re expecting this match to go the full distance. There’s another hard fought day ... and there’s a lot of fight in that dressing room.”


Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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