The Indian batsmen displayed guts on a surface that was particularly nasty on the third day. The manner in which Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and M. Vijay took blows on the body but still got behind the line showcased their commitment.
It was as brave as they come. This game is as much about heart as technique and South African opener Dean Elgar, whose unbeaten 86 at the venue was an innings of great character, will vouch for this too.
Small moments, big problems
He said, “The pitch was extremely freaky. I’ve faced many fast bowlers before and I know the Wanderers wicket has steep bounce, but I have never experienced anything like this. On this pitch, even a good leave or a block is sending out a message to the bowlers."
And the Indian pacemen retained faith on day four. Once India got the breakthrough, Mohammed Shami & Co. ran through the South Africa line-up.
Looking back, this was a series that India could have won had it played the big moments of the Tests at Newlands and Centurion better.
If the Indians bowled better at the South African lower order and tail – there were too many deliveries on the leg on a conducive pitch - in the first innings at Newlands, it could well have won the first Test.
And then when Kohli’s magnificent century virtually evened up the match after the first innings of both sides at Centurion, India put down catches when it had South Africa on the mat.
And in both Tests, India could not put together sizable partnerships on the chase. Rahane, who conjured a nugget in the second innings at Wanderers, should have played earlier.
India needs to get the selection of the eleven right, particularly on overseas campaigns where every place counts.
Kohli leads by example
Kohli marshalled his troops capably – his desire to win appears limitless - and batted with rare brilliance in difficult conditions. He notched up more runs than anybody else in the bowler-dominated series; 286 from three Tests at 47.66.
Importantly, Kohli has tightened his game around the off-stump on seaming pitches.
Vijay’s battling innings at the Wanderers – he almost batted through the entire first session of the third day with courage, focus and technique - should book his place for the England tour.
He continues to be the side’s No. 1 Test opener. K.L. Rahul, who needs to play closer to the body, is still the best candidate to partner Vijay in away Tests.
Cheteshwar Pujara pulled his weight in the final Test after ‘running’ into trouble at Centurion. Hardik Pandya can whip up moments of brilliance but needs to mature as an all-rounder.
Pace battery spurs India
The Indian pace pack was busy head-hunting. Bhuvneshwar Kumar – he should qualify as a genuine all-rounder after his vital batting performances at the Wanderers– bowled beautifully, moving it both ways at a good speed.
Shami had spells of inconsistency, but, when he found his rhythm, fired the ball in with pace and incision to scalp 15 batsmen in the series.
Jasprit Bumrah hustled those facing him with speed and lift and, if he works more on control, will add teeth to this line-up. Ishant Sharma bowled off-stump line, extracted bounce and added depth to the attack.
Bowling coach B. Arun has done a wonderful job with the pacemen. And the slip catching improved as the series progressed.
R. Ashwin impressed at Centurion, where the conditions suited his bowling and did appear a much-improved spinner on overseas pitches even when he bowled at Newlands.
India fought, competed and then won at the Wanderers. Talk to the South Africans here and they have respect for Kohli’s side.