Home English The chance that the Indian batsmen let slip.
India, perhaps, may not get a better shot at a win in this Test series than the chance it had at Newlands.
Now India faces the prospect of taking on South Africa on surfaces with even more pace, bounce and movement at the Centurion and the Wanderers.
Given the strength of its pace attack and the chinks in the South African batting, more opportunities might open up for India. They will amount to nothing, though, if the batsmen do not step up.
Actually, the host got the worst of the batting conditions in the Test. The South Africans misread the pitch — they expected the surface to become drier and faster on the second day which did not happen — and elected to bat on the first day when there was considerable lateral movement for the Indian pacemen.
Then, the South Africans, just two wickets down in their second innings, had to bat on the fourth day morning after the pitch was covered the entire third day that was washed out.
With all the sweating under the covers there was moisture on the surface and again there was considerable assistance for the Indian pacemen.
India should have nailed the Test. But Virat Kohli and his men had lost ground on the first day itself when, after making serious inroads, they allowed the South African tail to wag, Vernon Philander (23), Keshav Maharaj (35), Kagiso Rabada (26), Dale Steyn (16) added precious runs.
This was a period when the Indian pacemen tended to pitch short and wide, bowled on the pads to be taken for runs. These runs came back to haunt India — the margin of the South African victory was 72. Hardik Pandya came up with a brave innings of 93 to keep India in the hunt on day two, but, disappointingly, no other Indian batsman crossed 40 in the Test.
These are conditions when the batsmen need to play close to the body, leave deliveries outside off, push and drive in the ‘V’ than venture into big drives and wait for the short-pitched deliveries that are off target to unleash the cut and the pull.
Someone such as Rohit Sharma, so destructive on flat tracks back home, is finding life a lot harder here with a game that is not tight. Ajinkya Rahane has to be brought back for the next Test.
Playing Jaspirt Bumrah was a brave move and the lanky seamer justified the selection. If this paceman with a whippy, unusual action gets his line right — like he did on day four — he can be lethal in these conditions with his ability to extract bounce from a length.
Along with Mohammed Shami of skiddy pace and seam movement, the crafty Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the bustling Pandya, he forms a worthy pace pack.
Then, after the paceman — bowling with a lot more control in the second innings — had opened a path to victory on day four, the batsmen came unstuck again.
South Africa was without the injured Steyn and the Indian batsmen had to play for time with the entire fifth day remaining, see through the first 40 overs with minimum damage and then test the Steyn-less three-man South African pace attack, which would have been tiring by then, in their third and fourth spells.
But then, the lack of feet movement, both in defence and offence, and the lack of patience saw the Indians collapsing when in pursuit of an attainable target of 208.
Of course, Philander was outstanding. The manner in which he drew Kohli to one side of the pitch with a series of away-seamers and then removed him with one that came in was an outstanding piece of bowling.
With his accuracy, off-stump line and two-way seam movement, Philander is hard to pick and play.
The Indians have a job on their hands in the remaining two Tests. The batsmen are under scrutiny.