India wins a Test of surprises and paradoxes

By Kersi Meher-Homji

What a Test of paradoxes with twists and bumps galore! Can you imagine an Indian Test team without a spinner? It’s like Agra without Taj Mahal, Paris without Eiffel Tower and Sydney without Opera House.

Four days ago I had criticised Indian skipper Virat Kohli for including a fifth seamer Hardik Pandya instead of spin ace Ravichandran Ashwin in the third and final Test in Johannesburg. And then deciding to bat on a green swinging pitch! But Kohli proved me wrong on every count and I am delighted to admit it as India won the Test by 63 runs. Vah, vah, Sir Virat!

Although South Africa won the Test series 2-1, it is good for India’s reputation and her morale for the One Day International series starting on 1 February.

My criticism for Kohli reached a new high (or is it new low?) when India lost her openers Murali Vijay and Lokesh Rahul for 13 runs on the opening morning.

Cheteshwar Pujara who had set a record in the previous Test for getting run out in both innings set a near record of remaining run-less for almost an hour in this Test! Eventually he scored 50 runs adding 84 gallant runs with Kohli (54). With Bhuvneshwar Kumar hitting 30 runs at no.8, India managed 187 on a bouncing seaming pitch.

The hosts did little better. After losing their openers for 16, they were rescued by Hashim Amla (61 superb runs) and managed a small lead of seven runs. Fast medium bowler Jasprit Bumrah was the destroyer with a five wicket haul.

With Kohli (41), Ajinkya Rahane (48) and Kumar (33) batting responsibly on a dangerous batting tract India totalled 247, setting South Africa 241 runs to win and whitewash India 3-0.

They were on the victory way being only one wicket down for 124, Amla (52) and opener Dean Elgar batting beautifully on a pitch which behaved erratically. But once Amla fell to a super delivery from Ishant Sharma, the rest collapsed in a heap as South Africa lost their last nine wickets for 53 runs.

The hero was opener Elgar who carried his bat for 86 runs. But they could manage only 177 as Mohammed Shami captured 5 for 28.

India won by 63 uns and the Man of the Match was Bhuvneshwar Kumar for his all-round excellence. South Africa’s fast bowler and useful lower order batsman Vernon Philander was adjudged Man of the Series.

Battered and bruised opening batsman complained that the test should have been called off as it was too dangerous to bat. But who prepared this pitch? South Africa! They were beaten at their own game! What a paradox!

As the proverb says, “One who digs holes, falls in it himself!”

Victorious Virat said at the presentation, “Lovely. We required some character playing on a pitch that was very difficult. I think our guys showed great guts throughout the four days. We took the challenge. Batting first wasn’t a call that went down well with some people, but we knew it was the right call.

“We knew we were close in the first two games. This was perfect. Elgar and Amla played really well, although it was not easy. You expect that from South Africa. But one thing I know is that when wickets go down, in pressure situations, it is very difficult to come back.

“And the other good thing was we didn’t leak runs. The bowlers are a big positive. [To take] sixty wickets in a [3-Test] series is rare, and if the batsmen step up, they understand they need to and they did in this game and the win feels really great. [We] need bowlers confident to win Tests and as batsmen, we need to think about our game, prepare better and I’m sure we can win more often away from home.”

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