CENTURION - South Africa out-thought, out-fought, out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded Test cricket’s no.1 team here over four and a bit days.
This was the sweetest of victories for the Proteas. It would have been had they won in three days on a green top, but to beat India on a surface that even the tourists were surprised to see prepared with the series on the line, would have made the post-match drinks on Wednesday afternoon, that much more satisfying.
“It’s extremely special,” Faf du Plessis remarked. “I take a lot of pleasure in winning games like this, where the team needs a lot of heart, a lot of character and a lot of fight to to make sure we get across the line.”
The South Africans had been waiting on this series for more than two years, to gain revenge for the 3-0 loss in India, on pitches - certainly in two of the Tests that spun viciously and in the case of Nagpur was described as poor by the International Cricket Council.
That series loss had a psychologically draining effect on many of the South African players. It certainly played a part in the subsequent series against England in which the Proteas were defeated at home.
Worldwide too, there is the feeling that India’s no.1 ranking has been achieved because they’ve played at home almost exclusively. India’s world record equalling run of nine consecutive Test series wins, was achieved with seven of those series’ being played at home - the other two wins came in Sri Lanka and the West Indies in conditions very similar to what India have at home.
India had not anticipated the kind of pitch they got here at SuperSport Park, conditions with which they are very familiar. So in this Test it came down to a battle of skill and execution.
South Africa won a crucial toss, but as Du Plessis said, didn’t take advantage in that first dig. It meant they had to scrap harder than they’d have wanted, but they did so, gained a first innings lead and then thanks to an outstanding partnership of 141 between AB de Villiers and Dean Elgar, a resolute three and three-quarter hour innings of 48 from Du Plessis, stretched the game, allowing the pitch to deteriorate further.
Following that, South Africa’s bowlers, led by debutant Lungi Ngidi blasted through the Indian batting line-up utilising a pitch on which the bounce was variable. The 21 year old picked up six wickets in India’s second innings, including that of Virat Kohli on the fourth evening.
That was a significant psychological blow for the tourists. “We feel as the opposition, that India is very reliant on Virat to score runs,” explained Du Plessis.
Indeed, particularly with the bat, India have been too reliant on Kohli in these two Tests. In four innings Kohli’s scored 191 runs, while Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul have combined for a total of 242 runs.
“For us AB, Dean, Aiden and I’ve scored runs,” said Du Plessis.
The greater pace of the Proteas bowlers and particularly their better discipline across the two Tests meant they were better than the tourists, and the difference in the quality of the fielding of the two teams has been vast.
India dropped four catches in South Africa’s first innings - including wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel who replaced Wriddhiman Saha, who claimed an Indian Test record for catches at Newlands, missing Hashim Amla on 30, with the South African no.3 going on to make 82 - while two more catches were dropped in the second innings.
There was also Patel’s miss of Elgar, when he inexplicably didn’t move after the left hander had edged the ball in the gap between the keeper and slip with his score on 29. Elgar made a crucial 61.
“Not putting attention to detail at important stages of the game, is something we need to take into account and sit down and discuss as a team,” said Kohli.
India have not won a Test series in South Africa or Australia, where they tour later in the year, ever. In this country they have won just two out of 19 Tests across 26 years. Kohli, joins a long list of great players from that country who has led teams that have failed here. Given the optimism he had, the belief, this is a loss that will hurt - a lot.