JOHANNESBURG – South Africa did not lose this last Test against India by 63 runs on Saturday because of the Wanderers pitch.
Sure, there was a lot of controversy about the surface, and this venerable venue is likely to face some kind of censure from the International Cricket Council, which could impact on its future hosting of international matches.
However, the Proteas’ defeat was almost overwhelmingly the result of their own errors – starting with selection, then continuing into poor execution with the ball, some costly missed catches and India’s greater desire.
The tourists, still the world’s No 1-ranked Test side, really wanted to make a point here.
Their reputation took a hit after the loss of the series in Centurion, and they worked very hard to restore that in this match.
They bowled better, batted better and yes, even ultimately caught better than the host nation and were deserved winners.
It’s a triumph that will lift their hopes ahead of their tours to England and Australia later this year, and also showed that India possess a seam attack that can match anyone in the world.
The Proteas’ problems in this Test will be of concern to them as they look to plan for the series against Australia.
Perhaps they didn’t rate the Indian seam bowlers, and were therefore happy to play just six batsmen, but Quinton de Kock’s poor form batting at No 6 – which following this series looks at least one spot too high in the order for him – will mean a rethink of the structural composition of the team ahead of the Australian series.
De Kock scored 71 runs in six innings, for an average of just 11.83 – not the kind of return expected from a top-six batsman.
Faf du Plessis acknowledged afterwards that perhaps a seventh batsman was the better option for this Test, and that Theunis de Bruyn should have played ahead of Andile Phehlukwayo.
South Africa certainly didn’t need a fifth seamer on this pitch, and Phehlukwayo bowling just 10 overs in the match – and picking up two wickets – seems like a waste of a spot.
Not that South Africa’s defeat was Phehlukwayo’s fault. The other front-line seam bowlers didn’t do their jobs properly – certainly not as well as India’s quicks – and ultimately that was the difference in the match, along with the missed catches.
Where the Proteas batsmen were hopping around, and at various times just looked happy to survive, the Indian batsmen were given room to play their shots and were allowed to leave too many balls alone.
Meanwhile, India’s bowlers got the ball to dart around disconcertingly off the pitch, and over the course of the four days, attacked the stumps more and better than South Africa did.
Consider India’s second innings when they added 99 runs for the last four wickets, and compare that to how South Africa’s lower-order disintegrated on Saturday afternoon in the storm dished up by Mohammed Shami.
The Proteas went searching for too much from the surface and bowled too wide, while India – as Jasprit Bumrah put it during the game – resisted the temptation to try something extravagant and just stuck to the basics.
As a result, the Proteas lost nine wickets for 53 runs in 17 overs – four batsmen were bowled, while De Kock was trapped lbw.
Strange as it may seem, it was the tourists, often derided for their inability to cope with conditions outside of India, who adapted better to this surface than did the South Africans.
While the series was secured, and the South Africans quite rightly deserve to celebrate that achievement, some major question marks have arisen ahead of the series against Australia.
And for those four matches, you can bet the host nation won’t be preparing pitches as lively as this one was.