JOHANNESBURG – The better team duly won the first Test in Visakhapatnam.
India batted and bowled better than the Proteas, and were full value for their 203-run win.
However, South Africa need not panic. While there should rightly be some hard talks among the players about where they went wrong, it was a much improved performance from those seen in the sub-continent recently.
Periods of poor execution with the ball, some tactical shortcomings among the spinners, misfortune with the new ball on the opening day and two bad sessions - one on Saturday when India raced ahead with the bat, and then yesterday when Mohammed Shami destroyed the middle order - turned the match decisively India’s way.
In fact had South Africa been able to hang on in those two sessions, then perhaps they’d be heading for the second Test in Pune having shared the spoils.
It was not to be. Rohit Sharma dominated the two South African spinners; Dane Piedt and Keshav Maharaj, and India speedily built on their first innings lead of 71, leaving themselves just over a day to bowl the South Africans out in the fourth innings.
As is so often the case in the sub-continent, the game accelerated on the last day although it wasn’t the spinners, as is usually the case, but the seam bowling of Shami that ultimately blew the tourists away.
The bustling right-armer, who looked like he was struggling with an injury in the first innings, picked up 5/35, using a mixture of reverse swing and assistance from a pitch on which the ball kept low to overwhelm South Africa’s batsmen.
Faf du Plessis did not mind the pitch playing the part it did in the end and in fact praised the surface, calling it an excellent one for a Test match.
“It was very good for batting over the first two days, there was spin on days three and four and then it went up and down on the fifth which is exactly what you’d expect.
“We felt we were right in the game after getting 400. We needed something brilliant after that, but unfortunately, although it was close to happening for us, there were a few half chances that didn’t go our way and that’s where the game slipped away. The way Rohit played in the second innings made it tough.”
Sharma was named Man of the Match for innings’ of 176 and 127, with his second innings performance buying India back the time they had lost after South Africa’s first innings had dragged on for most of the first session on Saturday.
Du Plessis needed control in the period that followed from his spinners, but they weren’t allowed to settle and instead he had to employ his two seamers; Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, more than he would have liked.
Piedt, who’d not played a Test in three years, prior to his recall in Visakhapatnam and Maharaj, playing in his first Test in India, had their lengths upset by Sharma, who used his feet beautifully over the course of both his innings.
They are lessons Du Plessis accepted his bowlers would take and then hopefully apply in Pune.
It’s still too early to tell whether South Africa will make changes, although one that will bear very serious consideration is Theunis de Bruyn at No 3, who played two awful shots at times in the match that demanded more solidity. Zubayr Hamza is the obvious replacement, although word out of the camp is that he was struggling with a knee problem ahead of the first Test.
Du Plessis’s main task as the team travels from the south east across India to Pune in the west, is to ensure the players aren’t scarred ahead of the start of the second Test on Thursday.