Gone in two-and-a-half days – would you have seen this coming?

There was a confidence that this Indian team radiated that had rarely if ever been seen on South African shores before. Virat Kohli’s team wanted to win away from home and they were pretty vocal about it. So then, what went wrong?

1. The challenges of playing away from home have been grossly underestimated. There is a reason why India’s away record remains so poor. The swing, the bounce, the seam and the art of countering them have long escaped the Indian batsmen. Since January 2011, they’ve won only one Test match outside Asia excluding tours to the West Indies.

Test matches excluding West Indies
Test matches excluding West Indies

2. India came into the series without a single practice match. Buoyed by the bravado of an exceptional home season, they thought match wicket practice alone was good enough. However, true greatness for any team is how they fare in conditions unfamiliar to them. While the record since 2011 is truly abysmal, it might be fair to say that the all-time isn’t any better.

In South Africa, for instance, they’ve won only two Test matches since they started touring in 1992.

3. South Africa set a modest target of only 208 with two days left to play in the Test. “I was nervous,” said Faf du Plessis after the game, indicating that he didn’t think it was enough.

However, India crashed and burned. A successful chase of of 208 would’ve been their third highest successful run-chase outside the subcontinent. They’ve never won against South Africa while chasing. And the record will stand for now.

4. India faced one of the most lethal pace attacks in recent memory. Even with the absence of Dale Steyn in the second innings, the triumvirate of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel are devastating at home. Even when compared to the the best bowlers in history, this pace attack is something to be reckoned with. Rabada and Philander average 18 or below at home.

5. A strong pace attack, however, doesn’t excuse the poor showing by India’s much-vaunted top-order. Only three batsmen in the current squad average above 40 runs outside the subcontinent. Of those three, only Virat Kohli was in the starting 11. In a leap of faith, KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane were both left out for the first Test at Newlands.

6. India’s top order failed to show up. India was 76 for 5 in both innings. Among the top-order batsmen, only Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara went past 20 runs in an innings. Fortunately, Hardik Pandya’s heroics in the first innings kept India in the game. But in both innings, it was really the tail-enders picking up the pieces. Ravichandran Ashwin, more of a bowling all-rounder, was India’s top scorer in the second innings.

Going into the second Test, India have to rethink not just their batting line-up but also find a way to rectify their technique. Given that the second Test starts on Saturday, they are fast running out of time and options.