On a dry, brownish pitch, more sub-continental than South African in nature and assisting spin, the Proteas made all the right moves. They got the partnerships going, were willing to grind it out in the heat to put runs on the board and then the pacemen bowled with both velocity and exceptional control to cut off all escape routes for India.
The host, routing India by 135 runs at the SuperSport Park on Wednesday, took a winning 2-0 lead in the three-Test Freedom series and now has a chance to achieve a 3-0 verdict over the No. 1 ranked side on what should be seaming track at the Wanderers
And the Indians, displaying a distinct lack of fight and character, let themselves down. The key moments of the Test flew away before they could seize them.
The Indians did not put up resistance like the top side in Test cricket should. The capitulation was inexplicable – the ball did not even keep low on Day Five - and it is time for serious introspection.
India, pursuing 287 for victory and beginning the day at 35 for three, was blown away for 151 in extended play before lunch. The lack of application from the batsmen – there were many soft dismissals – was shocking.
For South Africa, debutant Lungi Ngidi was the Man of the Match and the moment. His six for 39 was a compelling display of genuine fast bowling.
Ngidi has a lot going for him. He has speed – he consistently bowled in the high 140s kmph – and hit the pitch hard. He does bowl a heavy ball. The barrel-chested 21-year fast bowler from Durban with a front-on action was nerveless on his first Test and bowled with the sort of accuracy that left his captain Faf du Plessis impressed.
The only partnerships of sorts for India came when Rohit Sharma (47) and Mohammad Shami (28) added 54 for the eighth wicket. Rohit, finally, batted with some flair, clipping Vernon Philander over mid-wicket, dismissing left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj over long-on for the maximum and hooking Kagiso Rabada, twice, to the fence.
To his credit, Rohit was getting behind the line and timing the ball well. He was willing to take on the short ball and, eventually, fell miscuing the stroke off Rabada. AB de Villiers, running in from fine leg, plucked a sensational catch diving forward. What an athlete!
Pujara run out for the second time
Earlier, Cheteshwar Pujara looked confident, and a sizable innings from this grafter seemed on the cards. But then, Pujara, for the second time in the match, was run out – his bat was on the line when the bails came off – at the striker’s end going for a third run. Parthiv Patel had stroked Philander to third man. It was typically smart fielding by the South Africans with Ngidi making a sliding stop, relaying the ball to de Villiers at backward point and ‘keeper de Kock removing the bails in a flash.
Given his value to this line-up, it simply doesn’t make sense for Pujara to take off for the extra risky run. He has now been involved in six of India’s last eight run-outs in Tests.
Pujara is simply not quick enough between the wickets to attempt these kind of runs and needs to think long and hard about getting this important aspect of batting right.
Parthiv Patel essayed a couple of crisp shots, driving Rabada through covers and down the ground. A stunning, diving catch from the tall Morne Morkel at fine leg ended his tenure; the wicket-keeper batsman had hooked Rabada.
Hardik Pandya fell to a horrendous shot, sticking his bat out to a short, wide delivery from Ngidi and R. Ashwin nicked attempting to drive a length ball outside off from Ngidi with minimal use of feet.
As the dust settled on the Test, the South Africans celebrated with customary flamboyance and the Indians appeared despondent. Kolhi’s men have only themselves to blame. Test cricket can be very unforgiving.
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