South Africa and India drew an epic Test yesterday as the top-ranked South Africans - written off completely at the start of the final day - fell just eight runs short of a record run chase and one of cricket's greatest yet most improbable victories.
Facing a mammoth target of 458 to win the first Test, South Africa finished on 450-7 after putting themselves on course for a stunning win through a 205-run partnership between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, who both made centuries. In a final twist, the hosts then had to turn runs down to save themselves with tail-enders at the crease in a hectic finish at the Wanderers.
No. 2-ranked India clawed their way back in the gripping finale that befitted a meeting of the format's best teams to remove De Villiers for 103, J.P. Duminy for just five, and Du Plessis to a vital run-out for 134 when South Africa were within sight of the momentous win.
"We lost it a bit when AB and Faf were batting, but we came back," India's Virat Kohli said.
South African tailenders Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn were left clinging on for the draw and ultimately playing it safe and choosing to defend when so agonisingly close to making cricket history.
Just before Ajinkya Rahane's throw crashed into the stumps with Du Plessis sprawling to make his ground for the game's most crucial moment, South Africa incredibly needed only 16 from 20 balls.
"Everyone was pretty shocked, honestly," Kohli said. "We didn't think they'd stop going for that score."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith said the decision to play for the draw at the end - effectively the last three overs - and save the game after all South Africa had achieved through three gruelling sessions was made by the batsmen, Philander and Steyn.
The skipper said he backed them completely despite rumblings of discontent from the crowd at the very end of an enthralling day.
"The knocks that AB and Faf played, everybody would have been saying what an incredible effort," Smith said. "We mustn't lose sight of that in the emotion. You understand the emotional side. I think the context was that it was an unbelievable Test match ... I don't think too many people gave us a chance (of drawing)."
South Africa's 450-7 was the third-highest fourth-innings total in more than 2,000 games of Test cricket over nearly 140 years and would have been the highest successful chase ever if the Proteas had got to the 458.
The only other last-innings score ahead of South Africa's yesterday was New Zealand's 451 in a losing effort against England a decade ago.