India did not won the Test series against the best team in the world fairly; R Ashwin can only pick up wickets when it turns square – that and more were the criticisms thrown against the home team after they ran through South Africa in two of the three Tests that were played in this Freedom Series, going into the final one in Delhi.
With the series sealed 2-0, India went into the Feroz Shah Kotla looking to blank South Africa and complete a comprehensive series victory. A similar pitch from Nagpur would have spelt doom for South Africa from day one, but this wicket in Delhi was a lot more placid.
There was a bit of spin, but extremely slow spin; there was a bit of seam as well, and the conditions also allowed the ball to move in the air a fair bit, especially when the red cherry was older and started to reverse. Owing to the really slow nature of the wicket, though, the batsmen had plenty of time to play most of the deliveries, which is why the most dangerous bowler on this wicket was the quick-spinning Ravindra Jadeja.
Yet, it was Ashwin, with his loopy off-spinners, who finished with the most wickets in this Test match – albeit jointly with Jadeja at seven – and it was the man from Chennai who picked up a crucial five-for in the blockathon of a final innings from South Africa.
This was a wicket that tested the batsmen and the bowlers equally, and while South Africa put up an admirable effort, India showed their superiority, even when the pitch was not "diabolical" as some said after and during the Nagpur match, which ended in under three days.
There is absolutely nothing wrong in preparing wickets that suit your strengths when you are playing at home. Who wants to see a flat deck where both teams score well over 400 in the first innings, with the match then petering out to a meek draw?
This is Test match cricket because it is supposed to "test" your mettle. The modern-day batsmen are so spoiled nowadays owing to the dominance of limited-overs cricket. With coloured clothing, you get flat-as-a-pancake pitches, with the pendulum firmly in the side of the willow-wielders.
Because of that, the batsmen have forgotten what it is to battle it out in the middle; to showcase the basics that they were brought up with when they were kids; to show that there is as much beauty in a well-played forward defence as there is in a loft over the infield.
That was the major problem in Nagpur – the batsmen, both India and South Africa, did not apply themselves, and therefore, it was easy for the bowlers to pick them off.
In Delhi, both set of batsmen – the South Africa first innings being the exception -- seemed to understand the importance of spending time in the middle; using those dead-bat defensive strokes, which do not seem to exist anymore – after all, even a defence nowadays is a push – to great effect and making the bowlers work for their wickets.
That is what Test cricket is all about – an equal battle between bat and ball, and boy was it that in Delhi in this engrossing fourth Test match.
The silver lining of India's victory, picked up in the final session of the final day, was that it underlined their ability to dominate opposition at home, even when the pitch is not as responsive for the spin bowlers as it could have been.
More such performances, and Virat Kohli's men will go higher than their current number two Test ranking.