India’s fast bowling attack found their radar. And then South Africa, even without Dale Steyn, showed just how formidable a force they could be led by Vernon Philander. The pacers shut down India’s hopes with an effectiveness that had a Monday (January 8) crowd at Newlands cheering in full-throated appreciation, as the home side surged to a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series with a 72-run win in the opening match.
Set 208 to win after Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah had combined to shoot South Africa out for just 130 in the morning, India’s batsmen couldn’t withstand the onslaught from Philander (6 for 42), Morne Morkel (2 for 39) and Kagiso Rabada (2 for 41), falling for 135 all out in 42.4 overs. It was Philander’s best innings figures, and couldn’t have come at a better time.
Overall, there had been only 230.5 overs bowled in the Test and the entire third day’s play had been lost – but even in effectively a three-day Test, fortunes swung, heroic spells and innings were had, and there wasn’t a single dull session of play. It all ended a little after tea on the fourth day, with Philander drawing Bumrah’s edge for Faf du Plessis to take a diving catch at second slip.
Steyn, out for the remainder of the series, had come out to bat hobbling on one leg in the morning. He couldn’t bowl, but the South Africans didn’t need him.
It had all seemed very different for India in the morning, with Shami finding the rhythm that had gone missing in the first innings. Bumrah, who showed that he could be a force with the red ball, had come into this match not having played a long-form game for a year. Quite expectedly, he didn’t have the best outing first time round. In the second dig though, both men were on fire, and the South Africans felt the heat.
Hashim Amla and Rabada, the overnight batsmen, were both cleaned up by Shami with edges to slips. Du Plessis got a snorter from Bumrah that lifted off a length and caught his gloves on the way to the wicketkeeper. Bumrah prised out Quinton de Kock in his next over, the ball angling in and taking the inside edge, with the Indians reviewing successfully. When Philander was trapped in front by Shami, South Africa had fallen to 95 for 7, with uncertainty around whether Steyn would even come out to bat.
All the while, AB de Villiers had stood like a rock, though likening him to as inanimate an object would be a gross disservice. Like he had in the first innings, de Villiers seemed to be facing a different bowling attack, in different conditions. His timing was impeccable, his shot-making had the stamp of genius and you sensed that all it needed was for one person to lend him adequate support to swell the total considerably.
Keshav Maharaj tried to do that as the two shared a 27-run stand, but eventually he couldn’t resist a poke at a ball in the channel to give Bhuvneshwar Kumar his first wicket of the innings. Bhuvneshwar had Morkel fending at a lifter to give Wriddhiman Saha his tenth catch of the match, five in each innings, and create a new record for an Indian wicketkeeper.
Newlands rose as one when Steyn walked out at No.11 in a heroic effort to give de Villiers some support while the batsman tried to blast out. It didn’t work though, as de Villiers fell to Bumrah for the second time in the match, caught at the midwicket fence. South Africa had lost eight wickets in 21.2 overs in the morning, and India would have enjoyed their lunch.
If anyone still had some of the fare in their mouths, it would have turned to ashes pretty quickly. After a chancy opening stand of 30 in which M Vijay successfully reviewed twice after being given out, things started to go pear-shaped for India.
Shikhar Dhawan was undone by his old failing, neither here nor there against a Morkel bouncer. In the next over, Philander – off whom Vijay had survived both successful appeals – finally got his man by nibbling away at the outside-off line and drawing the edge.
Cheteshwar Pujara was unlucky, in that he got a brute of a delivery that no batsman would have survived. Morkel got one to lift from back of a length and move away at pace to take the edge, and India were 39 for 3.
Much depended on the association between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, and though they put on a stand worth 32, neither will look back happily on their dismissals. Kohli was almost batting in de Villiers mode when he ill-advisedly walked across to Philander. He missed, the ball hit pad, and the review only showed three reds, sending the Indian captain back for 28, with Indian hopes trailing in his wake.
Rohit was handed a huge slice of luck when he got into a tangle to top edge a short ball from Rabada straight to Maharaj at square leg, but the fielder shelled a simple chance. Next over though, Rohit hung his bat lazily outside off to be bowled via the inside edge.
Kohli’s wicket in the 22nd over and Rohit’s in the 24th came at the most inopportune moment for India, given that the initial spells from the pacers had almost been weathered and had both men been there a little longer, du Plessis would have been forced to go defensive. Already Maharaj had begun warming up, but with the wickets, he remained out of the attack.
Saha fell in the last over before tea to make it 15 wickets in the first two sessions, but at 82 for 7, it was only a matter of time.
R Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar ensured there wouldn’t be total ignominy for India with a composed and classy stand of 49 runs, with Ashwin’s 37 becoming the highest score of the innings. Both men got behind the line of the ball, played with a straight bat and left well. They earned a minor victory by getting du Plessis to throw the ball to Maharaj, only in the 36th over.