India lost their first Test series since 2015, also their first under Virat Kohli, at Centurion’s SuperSport Park on Wednesday. Debutant pacer Lungisani Ngidi took six wickets for just 39 runs to send India hurtling towards a chastening 135-run loss.
Apart from Ngidi, South Africa managed to eke out important contributions from a number of its batsmen, such as Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, among others. India, meanwhile, had little to show for other than Kohli’s first innings hundred.
We take a look at some of the turning points of the match:
Dropping Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ajinkya Rahane: In his 33 Tests as captain preceding this, Kohli had not fielded the same eleven in consecutive Tests. That he kept the streak going in Centurion was of little surprise. What did raise quite a few eyebrows was not playing Bhuvneshwar Kumar — his best bowler and among the most assured batsmen on view.
His replacement, Ishant Sharma, didn’t perform poorly either — as his five wickets in the match suggest — but that doesn’t offer much by way of explanation. Also, India did miss Bhuvi’s tenacity with the bat, especially in the first innings, where his doughty batting could have meant a meaningful partnership with Kohli, and possibly a defining lead.
Another notable absentee from the playing eleven was Ajinkya Rahane. Easily the best batsman in the side in overseas conditions, the Mumbai batsman was made to warm the bench for Rohit Sharma over better recent form. Rohit, despite scores of 11 and 10 from his twin outings in Cape Town, kept his place, while Rahane was once again ignored. A batsman of his class and pedigree would have come handy on a wicket that had variable bounce.
Parthiv’s drops: Another change in the playing eleven, though an injury forced one since regular wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha developed a niggle, was Parthiv Patel. Patel had a below-par outing; he didn’t attempt a regulation catch from Elgar on Day 3 of the Test, and the southpaw went on to score a gritty fifty. What’s worse, he pointed towards Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip after his goof-up, evidently suggesting it was first slip’s take. It was not his only drop though. In the first innings of the same Test, he dropped Hashim Amla off Ravichandran Ashwin, and the right-hander went on to score 82.
Faf du Plessis’ batting in first innings: The South African skipper played a typically subdued knock in the first innings that not only bailed his team out of trouble, but in hindsight, laid the foundation for the win. No stranger to rearguard actions, du Plessis arrived at the fall of AB de Villiers, and was the ninth man out. By the time he was cleaned up by Ishant Sharma, he had added 134 runs with the middle and lower-order. His 142-ball 63 was a grind that was not always pleasing to the eyes, but du Plessis displayed the required temperament and skills to bat his team to safety.
No new ball: Another baffling decision from the skipper, this one could well have been detrimental to India’s fortunes in the Test. In the first session of Day 4. Mohammed Shami snared three wickets, and looked good for few more. However, Kohli didn’t take the new ball in the second session, frittering away the advantage a rhythmic Shami bowling with a shiny red ball would have brought. Even with the old ball, Shami — one of the finest exponents of reverse swing in the team — was given just one over, and instead of bundling out the hosts cheaply, India were left to chase 287.
Run-outs: Run-outs in any form of game are criminal; in Tests, they are inexplicable. India had a total of three run-outs in the match, and two of them came in the first innings when India were trying to get close to the South African tally of 335 runs. Hardik Pandya didn’t ground his bat and Cheteshwar Pujara, perhaps in the hurry to get off the mark, was done in by a direct-hit from Ngidi. The twin dismissals pegged India back. Then in the second innings, Pujara took on de Villers’ arm for a needless third run, and was run out. India surely needed better from their No 3.