Proteas claim series, go 2-0 up

After missing out in a very competitive first Test, here was a pitch which gave India more than a chance. It had enough to offer something for spinners, and was quite similar to subcontinental conditions. The match did change sides throughout the course of the Test, but another disheartening effort from India’s mighty batting order hurt the visitors and put an end to their nine consecutive Test series winning streak. A rampant South African team were the better of the two sides in all three departments.

On Day 1, the South African skipper won the toss and decided to bat on a surface which seemed to give batsmen a fair chance to score big. The surface was very unlike a Centurion pitch which is traditionally known to favour bowlers. The openers, Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram provided a steady start and didn’t throw away their wickets in the first hour of play. Ravichandran Ashwin provided India the breakthrough in the 30th over by dismissing Elgar.

Markaram and Hashim Amla build on a solid start and it was once again Ashwin who broke the 63-run partnership by dismissing the other South African opener, 6 runs shy of a century. Markaram combined well with, first Elgar, and then Amla and provided a steady foundation for his team.

Replacing Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the eleven, Ishant Sharma proved his worth by clinching the prized scalp of AB de Villiers. Coming in at number 5, skipper Faf du Plessis then joined hands with a well set Amla and the duo looked relatively at ease against the Indian attack, who, apart from Ashwin, didn’t seem to cause any trouble.

India needed something special in the field to turn things around and Hardik Pandya provided them with just that. A direct hit from the allrounder led to the downfall of Amla and India found an opening in South Africa’s fragile lower middle order. 2 balls later, Ashwin’s loopy delivery found the edge of Quinton de Kock’s bat. It was a mini collapse for the hosts as two more wickets followed soon enough and South Africa were suddenly 282/7.

The South African skipper was running out of partners and decided to take the onus of scoring runs. He added valuable runs with the tail and found good support in Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel. Ishant dismissed him for 63 and the South African innings ended on 335. For the visitors, Ashwin was the pick of the bowlers in the first innings as he dismissed four South African batsmen and used the conditions to his advantage.

Replacing Shikhar Dhawan in the side, Lokesh Rahul and Murali Vijay batted with caution against the South African bowling line-up which bowled with discipline and didn’t let the Indian batsmen score easy runs. Morkel induced a false shot from Rahul and broke the partnership. It was a suicidal run out from Pujara on his first delivery and the young debutant for South Africa, Lungi Ngidi was in action before the ball was handed over to him. All eyes were now on Virat Kohli to bail India out of trouble.

The Indian skipper took on the attack and looked comfortable in the middle. He was positive in his approach and played his shots. This kept the Indian scoreboard ticking and allowed Vijay to play himself in. The partnership was flourishing, and the pair was starting to score runs freely in the middle. They added 79 runs for the third wicket, but against the run of play for India, it was Keshav Maharaj who broke the partnership by dismissing Vijay on 46. He lost his focus just at the wrong time and South Africa got just the breakthrough they were looking for. Rohit Sharma and Parthiv Patel couldn’t stay with their captain for long and India were 164/5 when Hardik Pandya came and joined Kohli in the middle.

Amidst the fall of wickets at the other end, Virat Kohli looked in complete control and showed his character. The captain took on the responsibility of scoring runs and completed his 21st Test century with an iconic celebration at the Supersport Park. While the other batsmen struggled to hit the ball of the middle of the bat, here was one player who looked at ease and was confident that he could score regardless of what the pitch had to offer, the bowling attack, and the conditions. He would rue the fact that wickets kept falling at regular intervals at the other end, and was aware that the job was only half done yet.

In the next over, he lost another partner as lack of game awareness from Hardik Pandya cost him his wicket through a run-out. Ashwin then joined his captain in the middle and much like Ashwin always does; timed the ball perfectly. Ashwin played his natural game, scored 38 beautiful runs and added 71 with Kohli for the 7th wicket before nicking one Philander delivery to du Plessis.

With Ashwin dismissed, Kohli decided enough was enough! He started to play with more freedom but he played one shot too many and was the last batsman to depart as India ended their first innings 28 runs away from the South African total.

Bumrah provided India a splendid start in the second innings as he dismissed Markram and Amla in the first 6 overs. Coming in to replace Amla, de Villiers did what he did in the first innings of the first Test; he counter-attacked. India lost their opportunities in this innings and weren’t consistent enough with disciplined line and lengths. De Villliers pounced on any chance of scoring a boundary and took the pressure off Elgar who was struggling at the other end but gutsed it out in the middle. He was lucky to be there but made it count. The play on Day 3 ended early as rain interrupted play at first. Moments after play resumed, bad light wiped off the remainder of the final session. South Africa were the team departing on a happier note.

The next day, the 141-run stand was finally broken by Mohammed Shami, as de Villiers nicked one to wicket-keeper, Patel when he tried to run one down to third man. In the same spell, Shami dismissed Elgar and a struggling de Kock as South African found themselves struggling at 163/5.

India had more than a chance of making a comeback in this Test match which was wide open, but they missed their opportunities yet again as they played the waiting game instead of going on an all-out attack. Philander and du Plessis were allowed to settle down and the pair added vital runs on the scoreboard. Ishant and Ashwin didn’t give away easy runs but they weren’t threatening enough either. Ishant’s hard work finally paid dividends as Philander mistimed one pull shot straight to Vijay at square leg. In his next over, he got the wicket of Maharaj.

Much like the first innings, Faf du Plessis batted well once again with the tail and eventually the South African innings finished on 258, which meant that India needed to chase down a target of 287 to draw level in the Test series.

The pitch had deteriorated enough and smart bowling from the South African pacers got them the rewards in the final session of Day 4. Rabada got one to nip back and the ball kept low and uprooted Vijay’s off stump. Rahul then threw his wicket away as he tried to hit one Ngidi delivery on the up but found the fielder at point. 5 overs later, Ngidi struck gold when he trapped Indian skipper & the centurion from the previous innings, Kohli, plumb in front and South Africa ended the Day 4 on a fantastic platform.

It would have been a miracle had India bounced back in the Test match from here but the way they lost their wickets was the cause of concern. It was a Test match to forget for Pujara, the one player India had their hopes on, as he ran himself out for the second time in the Test. The South Africans were pumped up and were giving it their all in the field now. Parthiv Patel’s gutsy innings came to an end as Morkel took an outstanding catch in the deep. The Indian camp looked glum while the South Africans were delighted. This was finishing sooner then they expected.

Captain du Plessis threw the ball to debutant Ngidi for his second spell and what a masterstroke it turned out to be! He dismissed Pandya and Ashwin in consecutive overs and India were left reeling on 87/7.

Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami delayed the inevitable by adding 54 runs for the 8th wicket but it was too late for India who were bundled out for 151 in the end.
South Africa had found a new star in this Test match. 21-year-old Lungi Ngidi replaced the mighty Dale Steyn and what a memorable debut he had! His first contribution in the game was when he effected a terrific run out and ended up with a 6-fer in the second innings of his very first Test match and was deservedly named the Man of the Match.

Team India will look to shrug off the two defeats when they take on the hosts in the final Test of the series. Virat Kohli will have a few more headaches when he has to choose the playing XI before the Johannesburg Test. India are still the number 1 ranked team in Tests, and will not want a clean sweep sitting next to their recent success stories, and with a few more tours planned during the course of the year. The final Test starts in Johannesburg in a week’s time, on Wednesday, 24th January.