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Proteas must show improvement to claw their way back against India without Quinton de Kock

Quinton de Kock gathers the return throw during day 3 of the first Test against India. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Quinton de Kock gathers the return throw during day 3 of the first Test against India. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Dec 31, 2021


Stuart Hess at SuperSport Park

Day 5:

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India 327 and 174

South Africa 197 and 191

India won by 113 runs

Centurion - That match went largely as expected. But what was not expected was Quinton de Kock’s retirement from Test cricket.

The Proteas wicketkeeper called time on his Test career on Thursday night. De Kock was set to miss the rest of the series as he and his wife Sasha await the arrival of their first child.

Back to matter on the pitch...To start with the victors. This Indian team is a very, very good one. They’ve proved it in Australia (twice in the last three years) and England this year. They continue to dominate at home, as the current world Test champions, New Zealand can attest.

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The Australians can go ahead anoint their own pace attack, this Indian one is better.

Mohammed Shami may not be as strapping as Cummins or Starc, but he is a magnificent fast bowler. He doesn’t miss. He honed in on a line and length here, top of off stump, and then stayed there. His dismantling of Aiden Markram in the first innings made for terrific viewing. Markram lost his off-stump (literally and figuratively), and may struggle to find it again in this series.

ALSO READ: Captain Dean Elgar says SA considering changes for the second Test

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Jasprit Bumrah, runs in with what Dean Elgar described as “high energy.” He has a hell of a lot of skill too, as Rassie van der Dussen’s second innings dismissal demonstrated. Mohammed Siraj is a fiery sort, but too is a highly skilful bowler.

They out-bowled South Africa here, the one area where, coming into the series, the two teams are evenly matched. With the bat, India showed the requisite patience in that first innings, beautifully encapsulated by opener KL Rahul’s 398 minute occupation of the crease in which the balls he left alone were as critical as the ones he hit to the boundary.

Elgar said afterwards that a first innings of 250 at this venue was substantial, and South Africa because they were so slow to assess conditions on that first day, allowed India to post over 300. They were also chasing the game from there.

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As for South Africa, this is a match from which they will (and must) heed the lessons. They hadn’t played Test cricket for six months and it is incredibly hard to simply flip a switch and get back into the rhythm of a five-day match. The South Africans have all mentioned that they don’t want to use that as an excuse but it is a worthy factor to consider given how this match unfolded for the hosts.

All the players will be better for these four days. They can take solace from how well they kept fighting back, especially with the ball from day two onwards.

With the bat there weren’t too many positives. Elgar and Bavuma’s half-centuries were noteworthy contributions from two senior players. Quinton de Kock played two lousy strokes in his dismissals, and it may be a blessing in disguise that Kyle Verreynne will step in for the remainder of the series.

ALSO READ: SA vs Ind: Plays of the Test match

With this fragile batting order, a good start is imperative and Elgar and Markram, as a combination have not provided the team with that in the last three Tests. It has put enormous pressure on Keegan Petersen, who has looked composed and technically proficient, but has come to the crease before the end of second over in each of his six Test innings.

The onus should not be, as Elgar tried to explain on Thursday, on moving Petersen down the order for the next match. Rather he and Markram need to look at themselves. It is hard to open the batting in SA, and more so against this Indian attack, but the first wicket duo are among South Africa’s most experienced players, and thus have to bear more responsibility.

Of the teams, it is South Africa which has greater room for improvement. India’s middle order batting is the only part of their game that let them down. The Proteas can play better across the board, even with the ball, an area in which improved rapidly during the first Test. It is with the bat however, that they need to be better. However that is not a new problem for this Proteas team.