JOHANNESBURG - South Africa skipper Graeme Smith defended the controversial decision to abandon his team's epic pursuit of a world record score and settle for a tense first Test draw against India.
South Africa needed just 16 runs off the final three overs with three wickets remaining as they chased down 458 to win the opening match at the Wanderers.
But when top-scorer Faf du Plessis was run out off the fifth ball of the 133rd over, having hit a majestic 134, the batsmen in the middle — Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn — opted to bat out for the draw.
The next two overs were maidens and even though eight came off the last over, including a six by Steyn off the final ball, it was too little, too late.
"Ultimately the guys out in the middle made the decision that they thought was in the best interests of the team," said Smith of a decision greeted by boos from the home crowd.
Smith said it was the best option with only the injured Morne Morkel and No.11 Imran Tahir left to bat. "With Morne struggling to stand and with no ability to run between the wickets and with Imran you're not too sure what you are going to get. We as a team have to support the decision that Dale and Vernon made in the middle," said Smith after his side reached 450 for seven at the close.
"With two overs to go, and one Test match to go with an opportunity to win the series in Durban, we have to be 100 per cent committed to the decision.
"The strength of this team is that there are good decision-makers.
"Each guy is mature, have made good decisions over the last period of time and have won cricket games for South Africa. That is how we got to No.1 in the world, by trusting each other and trusting our decision-making. Dale and Vernon had my support 100 per cent." The world record for a successful run chase remains the 7-418 by West Indies against Australia in St John's in 2002/03.
The second Test between South Africa and India starts in Durban on Thursday.