India travelled to South Africa, as the series that had been hyped up for the last two months had finally started. It was a series that promised a lot, as both sides had a lot to prove. For India, it was about showing that they can pull off a grand away tour victory. For South Africa, it was about beating the world’s top test side in their own backyard! The battle that ensued did not disappoint.
FIRST TEST – NEWLANDS
India got off to a fine start as they picked up three wickets in less than five overs. But a resilient partnership between De Villiers and Du Plessis got SA to a respectable first innings total. India, in response crumbled against the host’s pace quartet. If not for the counter-punching Pandya and his brilliant 93, India would’ve been out of the game. SA were bundled out for a mere 130 in their second innings as the Indian pacers ran riot. A Steyn injury meant India had 208 to chase in 2 days against just three pacers. But Philander’s heroics with the ball, picking up 6 wickets meant South Africa had won the game by 72 runs.
SECOND TEST – SUPERSPORT PARK
South Africa turned in a brilliant batting performance on the back of a 94 from their swashbuckling opener – Markram. Amla and Du Plessis contributed too as the hosts scored 335. In response, India crumbled yet again under a new pace quartet where the injured Steyn was replaced by Lungisani Ngidi. The captain Kohli stepped up and played the knock of the series scoring 153 runs. South Africa, in response scored 258, with ABD, Elgar and Du Plessis playing great knocks and Shami picking up 4. India needed 287 to win and had a great chance to level the series. Ngidi stepped up for South Africa and picked up 6 wickets. The debutant bowled beautifully and won the game for the hosts. They had an unassailable lead in the series at 2-0.
THIRD TEST – WANDERERS
India wanted to salvage some pride and South Africa wanted to keep the winning momentum going. Kohli asked his men to bat first on a lush green track which saw everyone struggle to score. But a stoic partnership from Pujara and Kohli had got India to 187.In response; South Africa struggled to score too, as the Indian bowlers were impressive. Bumrah got his first test fifer as the Proteas, on the back of Amla’s 61 and Philander’s 35 amassed a 7 run lead. India played their best innings of the series as great intent was shown by the batsmen. Vijay and Kohli played great knocks, as Rahane had pummeled the bowlers with the tail-enders to get to an incredible 247. As the pitch got older, it became more treacherous and had the umpires contemplating if the match was to be abandoned. Chasing 240, the first session of the chase was eventful as the ball nipped about. There was an early call for stumps after a ball had hit Elgar on his head; a seemingly “Dangerous product of the pitch”. Amidst chatter of the match being called off, play resumed the next day and South Africa played incredibly well. But a fiery spell from Shami blew the match wide open and India won the game against all odds. Elgar carried the bat, playing a classy knock of 86*.
Most runs: Virat Kohli – 286 runs at an average of 47.67
Most wickets: Vernon Philander – 15 wickets in 3 test matches
Player of the series: Vernon Philander – 15 wickets at an average of 15.87 and 94 runs in the series
Fifth Umpire’s player(s) of the series: Bhuvaneshwar Kumar – 10 wickets in 2 games and 101 runs with the bat at an average of 33.67
Jasprit Bumrah – 14 wickets in 3 games in his debut series.
BOTTOM LINE: On the back of great anticipation, it was indeed the hosts, who were the better team through the course of the series, but India showed great signs of developing into a world class test team (both at home and away) in the three games. Both teams will take a lot of positives away from the titanic clash.
SOUTH AFRICA – INCREDIBLE; NOT IMPENETRABLE
Although it was at home, this series was pitted to test the Proteas unlike no other before. The hosts stepped up, and won games by winning the more crucial sessions, although they were behind at times. The biggest positive for them is their new fast bowler Lungi Ngidi, who managed to win them a game in his first ever test match for his country. The return of ABD, and the great form of Du Plessis and Amla is sure to boost the team’s chances when Australia visit them later. KG Rabada’s brilliance in this series almost earned him the man of the series award, only behind Vernon Philander who batted well too. A loss in focus lost them the third game, but the team looks spritely and played better cricket in the series, overall. If they work on the minor chinks in the armor, and find another quality test spinner, they can very well beat any side in the world.
INDIA – BRUISED BUT NOT BEATEN
After a long, fruitful home season, India travelled abroad to confront the ghosts of their past. Controversially so, they did not play any practice games, which showed in the way the batsmen failed to turn up in five innings out of six. It was a rare occasion where the batsmen failed. But, the bowlers turned up in prime fashion as they picked up all 60 wickets over the course of this away series. Jasprit Bumrah is the biggest take-away from the series as he bowled with great maturity in his first ever test series. Kohli’s chopping and changing of the playing XI showed signs of failing in foreign conditions as his choice to drop Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in the second test proved costly, losing out on a skilled bowler and handy batsman. His choice to play Rohit Sharma ahead of Rahane didn’t fare well too as the latter played a class knock of 48 on a treacherous pitch. The visitors also struggled after Saha’s injury, who had effected a record number of dismissals in the first test. India have a few worries to address, but they showed immense character. If the think-tank addresses these issues and maintains the same character, this side could be world-beaters.