India’s batting line-up fell apart in the face of a Vernon Philander-led pace attack’s relentless aggression as South Africa emerged victorious by 72 runs in the first cricket Test at Newlands on Monday.
While South Africa grabbed a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, the visitors squandered a golden opportunity to script a memorable win outside the sub-continent.
Needing 208 on day four for their third ever Test win on South African soil, the Indian batsmen let their team down for the second time in the match, bowled out for 135 in just 42.4 overs.
And to think we lost an entire’s day play. Test cricket, eh?
Here are the main talking points from what proved to be the final day of action in Cape Town.
The Philander Magic
Big Vern delivered and how. His career-best bowling performance was the driving force behind South Africa’s win. All of his six wickets were the result of some good old-fashioned swing bowling, but let’s take this moment to focus on the turning point of the final day: Philander trapping Virat Kohli LBW.
The manner in which the Indian skipper was set up would have done many a bowling great proud.
Philander had been bowling a lot of outswingers to Kohli in the lead up to the dismissal. Well, he had been bowling a lot of out swingers all through the innings to all batsmen.
Everyone knows Kohli is weak outside the off-stump to the ball that moves away. Well, most batsmen are.
But Philander used the fact that Kohli is weak to the delivery in the smartest way – he kept up with the outswingers and then quickly slipped in an inswinger. Kohli overcompensated for the outswinger and played it with a fair degree of caution but this just took him by surprise.
This was mind games of the highest order. This was the moment that the game definitively turned in South Africa’s favour.
Indian openers disappoint
Openers are key in conditions like the one in this Test at Newlands. Ahead of the series, the choice of openers was a much-debated topic. India went with the in-form Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay for this Test. Expectations were high, but unfortunately, their performance in the first Test showed how ill-prepared the two seem to be for these conditions.
After struggling in the first innings against Philander and Steyn, a better performance was expected considering the latter was unavailable through injury. However, the duo looked a little out of their depth – and this time, the pair of Philander and Morkel exposed their shortcomings.
Dhawan failed to find a suitable shot to fend off a short delivery from Morkel; Vijay edged one to the slips off Philander after previously needing DRS twice to save his wicket off the same bowler. In the first innings, Dhawan was dismissed after attempting an ill-advised pull shot, while Vijay showed poor technique, playing away from the body to give away his wicket. In the second essay, there wasn’t much of a change.
The management may be need to give KL Rahul a look in. A good start to an innings is imperative for success in Test cricket and India did not get that in Cape Town. Looking at how Dhawan and Vijay have fared, a change appears to be inevitable in Centurion.
Bowlers come good
India’s bowlers put up an impressive effort in the first session to turn the match in their team’s favour.
Bhuvneshwar had put his hand up on day one, but received little support from his teammates. On day four, it was a proper collective effort.
The visitors seemed to have learned their lesson from the first innings.
After Pandya’s late two strikes on day two, Shami and Bumrah did well to pick up the baton when India needed a couple of wickets in the morning session to jolt South Africa. Unlike on day one, the duo bowled a disciplined line – just outside the off-stump, tempting the batsmen to play at the ball. Both bowlers also used the short delivery to their advantage and made most of the bounce on offer. The ball Bumrah bowled to du Plessis was one for the ages.
The collective-effort coupled with smart field placement by Kohli helped stifle South Africa’s offensive moves. And then, Bhuvneshwar came on in the end to wrap the innings up.
In hindsight, considering the 72-run final margin, the Indian bowlers’ performance in the first innings did prove critical. But considering the situation they were in, India needed all their bowlers to be firing in the second innings. Props to Shami and Bumrah (and Pandya as well) for stepping up and delivering in the second innings.
Data check: Wriddhiman Saha’s record
India’s slip catching has been abysmal for a while. But standing next to them, Wriddhiman Saha has been phenomenal (for a while now) and that showed in his record-setting performance – 10 catches the most by any Indian wicket-keeper in a Test match, home or away.
Data check: India’s poor away form
And with this defeat, India’s wretched run of form outside Asia (excluding West Indies) continues.
Will things change in Centurion? Only time will tell.\
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