Usually, Jasprit Bumrah doesn’t talk much. Whether you ask about his maiden five-wicket haul in Tests or how Kagiso Rabada frustrated India on day two, the answers come across with a certain incoherency, replete with a stone-faced grin.

Sift through his words, and like most seasoned Indian international cricketer, it is tough getting through to what he is really thinking. But there was one moment of honesty during this third Test in Johannesburg when Bumrah did not hold back.

“If it comes to that, we can give it back. Indian pacers have also got pace,” Bumrah had said, with his trademark smile, when suggested that that bowling bouncers to the South African tailenders in the first innings at the Wanderers was not a good thing.

Shift the scenery from that media conference room to on-field action, and sample this.

Murali Vijay – hit in the 31st over. Virat Kohli – hit in the 38th over. Ajinkya Rahane – hit twice in the 58th over. All of them bowled by Kagiso Rabada.

Dean Elgar – hit in the 3rd over. And hit twice in three balls in the 9th over.

That last hit – off Bumrah’s bowling – was nasty. It reared up with extra bounce, as the out-of-sorts Proteas’ opener didn’t have enough time to get under it and was smacked on the helmet.

The only difference – that delivery rose sharply from 8 meters, your typical short delivery, as compared to the other aforementioned deliveries that kicked up off cracks at length – that’s 5-5.5 meters on this venomous pitch.

The contentious point herein is the timing of intervention from umpires and match referee Andy Pycroft after that latter incident. He had charged onto the field after Elgar got hit and recommended that the players go off. Virat Kohli – and the Indian team – was clearly not happy. On the television set, you could see him mouth off to umpire Aleem Dar – “We also batted on the same pitch”. He had a pertinent point.

“The ball that hit him was back of length, not a hard length. It kicked off and had slightly more bounce than usual, but it was completely natural. We faced the same when we were batting. This is not a dangerous pitch. It is a challenging one,” Indian vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane said after the day’s play.

“They prepared this wicket, we did not ask them to do it,” he remarked, pointedly, in a stern voice, perhaps never before witnessed from this soft-spoken cricketer. “When Ishant, Bhuvi, Shami and Bumrah were batting, they were bowling bouncers. We have seen more difficult pitches than this in Kanga league.”

“How come everyone missed the fact that they came round the wicket and bowled at 140s when our tail-enders were batting?” asked Indian team manager Sunil Subramanian.

More to it

The problem though isn’t as simple. The match officials need to ensure player safety, especially in light of what happened with Phil Hughes in 2014. While the Indian opinion might be a different one, the match referee had, in fact, informed both teams that he could take a drastic step should something untoward happen, particularly with the new ball (used either by South Africa or India). The obvious differentiation though came in with the Indian camp’s opinion – Elgar couldn’t sight or play a short delivery.

From South Africa’s point of view, there was not one but two bones of contention. Coach Ottis Gibson was keen to resume play, but only if ‘safety of players is assured’. “We are here to play cricket and we are keen to play. If the match referee tells us to play, we will prepare accordingly,” he had said.

His words though were more of a defence-mechanism after an exceptional faux pas from their team manager, Dr. Mohammed Moosajee.

“I am not sure we were watching the same game. The ball that hit Dean Elgar shot off a good length,” Moosajee said, much to the surprise of everyone present. The collective reply from the gathered media was one of disagreement, and then of disappointment that this was the Proteas’ stand.

This is the underlying point. An incidence such as this will play up difference in opinion, and it is very hard to pinpoint who is right or wrong. India are in pole position in this Test – it’s improbable that South Africa can chase 241 on this minefield, especially since they know their batsmen will be made to hop, skip and jump. At the same time, the hosts are completely within their rights to complain about conditions, even if they are the same as during the two Indian innings.

There is a definitive imprint that this Indian batting line-up – often ridiculed as flat-track bullies – has put up one of the bravest displays ever seen on South African soil. And now it is up to the Proteas to make a similar brave stand on a pitch ‘they asked for’. The problem is of perception as well as indecision. If the match had to be called off, it should have been when Vijay or Kohli were hit, as Michael Holding had remarked on air.

After a series of failures, putting their hand up on this pitch, these Indian batsmen showed unprecedented grit and determination, never mind being 2-0 down. On this pitch, Rahane showed why he is a class above Rohit Sharma. On this pitch, Virat Kohli laid to rest all criticism of ‘not scoring on difficult pitches’ against his exploits across the world.

In a season of moral victories, India have put one across South Africa, in their den, at the famed ‘Bull Ring’.

Scorecards don’t register ‘moral victories’ and thus their desire to play on is expected.