Keegan Petersen was in his fifth Test match; Rassie van der Dussen in his 13th. South Africa were faced with history – the 212-run target was to be the third-highest in Tests in Cape Town and no team had successfully chased in the fourth innings against an Indian team captained by Virat Kohli. No one knew if the Protea pair was aware of it; no one cared later as they laid the foundation for an impressive seven-wicket win with a crucial 54-run partnership on Friday.
Experience, or lack thereof, was one of the keywords before the Test series began. This tour was touted to be one of India’s better chances of conquering, to use the overused term, ‘the final frontier’. After all, India’s bowling attack had a variety of seamers to go with a wily spinner. And their (middle order) batting was experienced, having been part of the setup for over half a decade. South Africa’s pace attack as well as the middle order was short on game-time.
The silent bats
Player of the series Petersen, 28, finished as the top run-getter in the three-match Test series against India with three half centuries, batting at number three. Temba Bavuma finished with an average over 73 batting at five. Van der Dussen produced two fourth-innings knocks of note.
What about India’s batters? Perhaps nothing that we didn’t already know. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were continued to be given a long rope. Rahane, stripped of vice-captaincy ahead of this series, scored 136; Pujara made 124 across six innings. Both the experienced batters played one crucial knock of over fifty in the second innings at Wanderers.
Who did they keep out? Hanuma Vihari, who was perhaps one of the better acclimatised India players, having toured with the ‘A’ side just ahead of the series. In fact, when Kohli was ruled out of the second Test, Vihari showed his mettle with two fighting knocks, including an unbeaten 40 in the second dig. The other contender was Shreyas Iyer, who began his Test journey at home against New Zealand.
The height of bowling
Head coach Rahul Dravid had spoken about the advantage that the taller South African bowlers had on the up-and-down surfaces in the Rainbow Nation after the Johannesburg Test, something which skipper Kohli alluded to after the final match. That the likes of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah have had successes in different conditions over the last couple of years showed enough about their adaptability.
But when there was an opportunity to pick a taller bowler, who also has the experience, in Ishant Sharma for the decider, the visitors went ahead with Umesh Yadav, who is as notorious for his lack of control as he is known for the extra nip. Yadav gave away runs at four an over when run-making wasn’t really easy, with just three wickets to show.
Moreover, the lack of support from the third seamer – be it Yadav at Newlands or an injured Mohammed Siraj at the Wanderers – meant that Shami and Bumrah had to shoulder extra burden. Bumrah bowled 104.5 overs, Shami 102 and the next most by an Indian bowler was Shardul Thakur with 72.5. In fact, both Bumrah and Thakur picked 12 wickets each.
Does luck exist?
Siraj, Shami as well as Bumrah and Thakur’s wickets tally perhaps don’t do enough justice to reflect how they bowled. The Protea batters, read Dean Elgar, had many a play and miss throughout the series. Even Petersen and van der Dussen were fortunate to survive the initial burst on Day Four of the last Test. The Indian bowlers weren’t rewarded as much as their South African counterparts, despite drawing more false strokes.
Like India’s tour of South Africa 2018 was a start of an era, the current one in 2022 perhaps might be end of one, especially the middle order. The Tests against Sri Lanka at home next month should be the beginning of another transition, one that’s already overdue.
While Kohli and co. set out with an aim to create history, the two South African chases meant India ended up being on the wrong side of it – conceding a series to Proteas for the second time despite being 1-0 up.