Wins and defeats are part of the game. Only this wasn’t a pasting handed by a superior South African side. The batting has lost considerable lustre, take away Kagiso Rabada and the fast bowling isn’t that awe-inspiring, and they are also dropping catches now. The real tragedy at Centurion wasn’t the innings and 32-run defeat itself but the supine nature of India’s three-day surrender that keeps South Africa’s unbeaten home bilateral record intact.
While there is no place quite like South Africa that can expose technical and mental failings, more was expected from India’s batting than just two innings of note—KL Rahul’s hundred and Virat Kohli’s engaging 76 on Thursday. Being dismissed for 131 in just over a session, on the same day Dean Elgar ended up outsourcing India, is a punch in the guts for those who believed India’s batting has finally come of age.
“Batting was poor in the second innings. Virat batted brilliantly but if you have to win Tests, you have to come together collectively. We failed to do that,” said India captain Rohit Sharma after the defeat.
“There is a very thin line of difference between showing intent and showing discipline,” he said later at the press conference. “Look what KL Rahul did in the first innings. That was the perfect example of showing intent and at respecting the conditions at the same time.”
For the record, no specialist batter was dismissed trying to defend the ball. Rohit Sharma was foxed by a beauty from Rabada but apart from him was a slew of misjudged shots and brain fade moments. To a rising Nandre Burger delivery Yashasvi Jaiswal failed to drop his wrists, something that shouldn’t have to be taught at this level. To incoming deliveries from the left-arm pace of Marco Jansen coming around the wicket, Shubman Gill tried to play through midwicket instead of playing straight. To a similar delivery, Shreyas Iyer then played a shot as if this was an ODI and not the 18th over of the innings, and more pertinently, a tense phase that India needed to bat out with Kohli to take the Test into the next day.
Rahul, expectedly tired after keeping wickets and then getting little rest because of the collapse, was caught at second slip after being lured into flashing at a wide delivery from Burger.
“Every individual has his own plan,” said Sharma when asked about the batting collapse. “Our batters were challenged at different times. We didn’t adapt well. We didn’t bat well both times which is why we stand here.”
There was a run out too, involving Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah over a non-existent second run, but the game had anyway slipped out of India’s hands by then. To reiterate, all this came on a day Elgar started as overnight anchor and enforcer, raising three partnerships of 93, 131 and 111 in their first innings to give South Africa the decisive edge. That last stand—with Jansen who went on to score a career-best unbeaten 84—came when India looked at their meekest, leaking runs when they should have tightened their lines.
The numbers don’t make for a great reading. Despite the prized scalp of Elgar, Shardul Thakur looked pedestrian, conceding 101 in 19 overs. Equally out of sorts was Prasidh Krishna who was too wayward too often. That South Africa could still add 48 runs after Elgar’s dismissal was largely due to Jansen, who was further emboldened by India’s lacklustre bowling.
If Jansen’s riposte wasn’t enough, Gerald Coetzee came and rubbed in some more insult with a 19-run cameo before holing out to mid-on off Ravichandran Ashwin’s spin. Sharma later indicated maybe too much hinged on Bumrah–who took 4/69—doing well.
“This wasn’t a wicket where you would concede 400,” said Sharma. “All Bumrah wanted was a bit of support. Which he didn’t get to be honest. But that happens. All the other three bowlers were trying hard but it just didn’t work out.”