India’s final frontier dreams up in smoke in three days vs 10-man South Africa | Cricket

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India’s dream of winning a Test series in South Africa – their ‘final frontier’ – for the first time went up in smoke. So thick and dark it was that it had the potential to even put the Delhi winter fog to shame. If one were poetic enough with a broken heart then the imaginary pungent smell accompanying the smoke would have disturbed him.

South Africa's Kagiso Rabada celebrates with teammates(REUTERS)
South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada celebrates with teammates(REUTERS)

Let’s come back to the reality, which belonged to South Africa.

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The hosts, presumably, the ‘weaker’ side before the start of the series, hammered India by an innings and 32 runs in the series opener at the Supersport Park in Centurion inside three days to take an unbeatable 1-0 lead in the two-match series. After being bowled out for 245 in the first innings, India allowed South Africa to post 408 and take a decisive 163-run lead on a pitch that offered something to the fast bowlers pretty much throughout the match. In their second innings, India were rolled over for 131 in just 34.1 overs on Day 3.

Presumption rarely works in international cricket. No South African side is weak in their backyard. It cannot be. So what if they had two debutants? So what most of their batters were out of form? So what their captain Temba Bavuma hobbled off the field on Day 1 and never returned? So what?

They had Kagiso Rabada, who bowled like a man possessed, picking up 7 wickets in the match. They had Dean Elgar, who in his last series, showed a batting masterclass for the ages. Debutant David Bedingham held his own with the bat with a solid half-century and so did Nandre Burger with the ball, especially in the second innings. Marco Jansen though blew hot and cold, made important contributions with bat and ball.

What about India? There was the individual brilliance of KL Rahul in the first innings and Virat Kohli in the second; Jasprit Bumrah was the standout with the ball with a four-wicket haul. But the rest painted a sorry picture.

Listless, lacklustre, clueless – rarely would one associate India’s Test side with such words in recent times. But this match was different. It was a crude reminder to the No.1-ranked side that there is a whole lot of work to do.

When play resumed on time – for the first time in this Test – on Thursday, South Africa had their noses in front but they would have been the first to be wary of this Indian side who have somewhat mastered the art of staging comebacks in overseas Tests over the last five years.

That Indian side, however, didn’t turn up in this match at all. There were glimpses of their class and quality when Rahul hit that breathtaking 101 in the first innings or when Bumrah troubled the Proteas batters in patches and even when Kohli batted freely in the second innings with wickets tumbling at the other end. But as captain Rohit said after the match, to win a Test match in South Africa, being good in certain patches will never be enough.

South Africa began the day at 256/5, enjoying a slender 11-run lead. It was an open secret that Bavuma was unlikely to bat. Effectively, they had four wickets to play with. If India’s pacers got their lengths right, the story could have changed quickly. But they didn’t.

Bumrah and Siraj started reasonably well but the moment they were taken off keeping the second new ball in mind, the skeletons of India’s pace attack laid bare.

Debutant Prasidh Krishna and Shardul Thakur were so off-colour that in the post-match show, there were discussions of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma, both no longer in the scheme of things for some time now.

((more to follow…))

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