All the pep talk, previous records and statistics have gone in vain as India have not only lost the second Test but also the much-hyped Test series against South Africa in a lopsided manner. There was not much change in the script for the number one ranked India who once again failed to break the famous South African jinx despite a ‘favourable’ brown strip in Centurion. Debutant Lungi Ngidi played an important role of chief tormentor for the visitors as he picked up an important six-for to hand India a 135-run drubbing in the second Test at SuperSport Park. The loss in Centurion has also halted the Indian juggernaut of nine-series victories which they achieved the under the captaincy of Virat Kohli.
After the 72-run loss in the opening Test, the margin got bigger in the second Test as the visitors handed the home side a 2-0 lead in the three-match series. Rohit Sharma's 47 was the lone noteworthy contribution in a chase of 287, which was a tall ask from the beginning given the unpredictable bounce of the pitch. The visiting team folded for 151 in 50.2 overs, never really offering a fight.
It was a revenge of sorts for Faf du Plessis' side, which had been blanked 3-0 by hosts India in 2015. From team selection to shot selection, to running between the wickets to the absence of sheer grit, India were left pondering quite a few issues at the end of just the second Test away from the sub-continent in more than a year. In this article, we look at some of the reasons which highlighted the vulnerability and loopholes behind the series defeat of the numero uno ranked side.
The role of the top-order becomes highly important particularly in the longer format when a team depends on the top three to give them a good platform. Coming off from a splendid season at home – Murali Vijay, KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara simply failed to put their best foot forward on the testing strips in South Africa.
In both the Test matches – Cape Town and Centurion, the famed names of the Indian batting unit fell like a pack of cards against some quality fast bowling from the hosts. Captain Virat Kohli also made a slight change in the opening combination after losing the first Test as he included Rahul in place of Shikhar Dhawan. But, it didn’t change the outcome as the opening combination failed miserably to add to the list of woes for the visitors. Also, the form of India’s best batsman in red ball cricket – Pujara who was the second highest run-getter in 2017 (behind Steve Smith) also become a point of worry for the visitors. He got the start in Newlands in the first innings but failed in the second. Whereas, the Saurashtra batsman achieved a dubious feat and become the first Indian player to be run-out twice in a Test match. He is also the first player to be run-out twice in a Test in the 21st century.
Costly drops and lethargic fielding
Speaking at the post-match conference, Indian team skipper Virat Kohli quipped: “As a team, you want to win collectively. We tried but we weren't good enough. South Africa were better than us, especially in the fielding department, and that's why they are the winners. And they deserve to be."
This statement from the captain of a young side whose fielding standards have been ‘world-class’ in the last few years have certainly raised a few eyebrows. “Catches win matches” – this quote weighs in gold particularly for the visiting team, if we look at the highlights package of the last two Tests. Known for their athletic and brilliant field work, Team India came out with greasy hands in both the matches and dropped crucial catches. From Virat Kohli to Parthiv Patel, Mohammed Shami to Hardik Pandya – everybody missed the chances which could have made an impact in the outcome of the series.
Exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane
The decision of Indian team management to exclude Mumbai batsman Ajinkya Rahane is one of the biggest points of debate in both the Test matches. On basis of splendid performances in the limited-overs format, Rohit Sharma was given the nod ahead of Rahane who has a very good record while playing in whites especially in the overseas conditions. However, Rahane has been out of form and did not have the best of series against the visiting Sri Lankan team in December which resulted in his ouster from the playing eleven.
In the last few years, Rahane has established himself perfectly at the number 5 spot in India’s Test side and is known to provide solidarity in the middle order. But Kohli’s decision to exclude Rahane who boasts an impressive average while playing on the foreign soil is a point which many cricket experts have failed to understand.
No support from wicketkeeper batsmen
In foreign conditions, the contribution of a wicketkeeper-batsman at lower down the order becomes extremely vital. They come at the number six or seven spot and can add crucial runs for the side which in the end makes a huge difference to team’s total particularly in bowling friendly conditions. But, both Wriddhiman Saha and Parthiv Patel failed big time to perform the tasks assigned to them.
Saha scored 0 and 8 in the first Test at Newlands in Cape Town, while, Parthiv scored 38 (both innings) of the Centurion Test. The duo boasts off a decent record while playing in the home conditions, but their performance was disappointing, to say the least in the two Tests.
Disappointed with the present lot of Indian wicketkeeper-batsman Meanwhile, cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar asks MS Dhoni to rethink his retirement from the traditional format. Gavaskar working as a commentator in the India vs South Africa series said: "If Dhoni wanted to carry on, he could have carried on. Clearly, I think he might have had too much of captaincy [burden]. I would have actually liked him to maybe give up captaincy and still stay in the team as wicketkeeper-batsman because his advice in the dressing room would have been invaluable. Maybe he thought that the best course for him was to not to be there."
Reckless show from ‘young brigade’
When former cricket Sanjay Manjrekar spoke his mind over Hardik Pandya’s run-out in the first innings of Centurion Test, many cricket fans slammed the Mumbai batsman for his comments. But, after the result of the series already decided – these small things will certainly be discussed and looked upon seriously in the Indian dressing room.
It all seemed to be going well for Team India as Virat Kohli bagged his 21st Test century on Day 3 of 2nd Test, but little did fans expect that young all-rounder Pandya would literally throw away his wicket in times other batsmen are finding it tough to stay on the crease. Pandya, who was too casual in dragging the bat back to his crease after being said no for a run by his non-striking partner Kohli, was run out in the most bizarre manners and hence got a thwacked by Sunil Gavaskar from the commentary box.
Similarly, opener KL Rahul who got the chance to play the second Test in place of Shikhar Dhawan also failed to capitalize on the opportunity. The Karnataka-born openers scored a total of 14 in both the innings and was also blamed for throwing his wicket away.