If Dale Steyn does not get you, Morne Morkel will. If not Morkel, then Kagiso Rabada. And if Rabada fails, then Vernon Philander surely will. That was a measure of the destructiveness of South Africa's pace quartet in the first Test. And Philander got rid of six Indian batsmen in the second innings, guiding South Africa to a 72-run win.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar gave India a dream start by taking three wickets early on in the first day, but then AB de Villiers came to his own, hit few boundaries and disturbed Indian pacers’ lengths. His stand with Faf du Plessis in the first innings turned out to be the turning point of the match. While India bowled South Africa out on the first day itself, they also lost three wickets by the time the day ended. But they were not out of the match yet.
The onus was on Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma to score as many runs as possible, but India found themselves in the difficult situation on the second day after losing seven wickets for 92 runs. The path was clear for Hardik Pandya to go after the bowling, and he mixed caution with aggression, which also gave Bhuvneshwar a much-needed direction. They added 99 runs and India managed to post 209 runs in the first innings.
The ball was in South Africa’s court and they made the match interesting by losing two wickets to Pandya at the close of second day’s play. Pandya had a dream day with the bat and he followed it up with the ball. The third day was washed out due to rain but 18 wickets fell on the fourth day and the match ended on a sudden note. The first session of the fourth day belonged to Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, while the remaining sessions belonged to Philander and company.
India had the resources but they did not use it well by dropping Ajinkya Rahane for Rohit Sharma. The topic is a contentious one, and the Indian captain had the answer when asked after the match.
“Well, we decided to go on current form. Rohit has scored runs in the last three Test matches that he has played, and he was batting well. We did that similar thing in the past and Shikhar as well. Look, these things can always be looked at in hindsight - thinking what if or what if not. But we decided to go with this combination and current form was definitely the criterion,” Kohli said.
It would be interesting to see with which combination India will go in with the second Test but for them, looking forward is the only way as they are already behind in the series.
Let us look at some of the records broken and created in the Newlands Test.
The Indian pacers found right lengths in the second innings and took all 10 South African wickets, three more than what they had achieved as a unit in the first essay. Their tally of 17 wickets in the first Test was the joint-second-most among Indian pacers in a Test played outside Asia except in West Indies and Zimbabwe.
Philander is a player who can bowl at the same place throughout the day if his captain gives him that task. He does not have the speed which most pacers who played in the first Test from either side had, but with his accuracy and action, he troubles batsmen and gets wickets consistently.
His seam presentation was eye-pleasing and at Newlands, where he has performed consistently over the years. His strike rate of 33.9 at the venue is the second best for any pacer among those who have taken at least 40 Test wickets at a venue.
The 'Big Vern' has a total of 47 wickets from eight Tests at the Newlands in his career. His figures of 6 for 42 in the first Test in the second innings was also his personal best.
Wriddhiman Saha was not quite upto the mark with the bat, but was very accurate with the gloves. He effected 10 dismissals in the match, which is now the most by an Indian wicket-keeper in a Test. The challenge him for will be to contribute with the bat in the next game with Parthiv Patel waiting eagerly for his chance in the wings.
Most dismissals effected by Indian wicket-keepers in a Test:
Saha took 10 catches in the Newlands Test, a feat that was not achieved by any Indian wicket-keeper in Test cricket in the past. In fact, Saha became only the fourth wicket-keeper to take 10 or more catches in an overseas Test match.
Pandya came to India's rescue in the first innings when the chips were down, and trouble was always a delivery away on that wicket. Yet, he fought hard in his knock of 93 runs by playing with the field more than anything else and aided India to reduce the lead of South Africa.
It was a Test match which Indian top-order would like to forget as quickly as possible as it was only the sixth instance in Indian Test history where they lost seven wickets under 100 runs in both the innings of the Test.
Pandya showed some intent with the bat and with the innings of 93 runs, he raised the bar. He missed out on becoming the fourth Indian batsman to score a century in his maiden innings in South Africa in Tests.
Bhuvneshwar has been India’s most improved player in the last one year or so. He is India’s leader of the pace attack now, which he substantiated with his display in the first innings.
He faced 127 balls in the first Test which was also the most by any Indian batsman. He added 99 runs for the eighth wicket in the first innings along with Pandya, which was the second most by any pair for the eighth or a lower wicket in South Africa in Tests for India.