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India vs South Africa: Proteas Left to Rue Failures Against Controllable Challenges

South Africa will rue this series as a missed opportunity. Not to win a series or a Test but to compete in competitive conditions.

Karthik Lakshmanan |October 13, 2019, 5:29 PM IST
India vs South Africa: Proteas Left to Rue Failures Against Controllable Challenges

"I was asking Virat to teach me the sleight of hand trick to win tosses in India," joked Faf du Plessis after losing the toss in the second Test in Pune. It was the ninth successive time a South African captain had lost the toss in Asia.

It's hard to beat India in Test matches in India and the job only gets tougher when you lose the toss. Since the start of 2010, in 48 Test matches, only twice have India lost a Test after winning the toss at home.

Both of those came against England in 2012. Only thrice have teams managed to even draw a match after losing the toss. In short, if you're to win or draw in India despite losing the toss, you have to be India.

India have won 20 and drawn six matches after losing the toss, showing they don't depend on the spin of coin.

So when South Africa lost the toss in Pune, as they did in Visakhapatnam, it was almost a given that the game would play out the way it eventually did. India made a massive score and South Africa eventually lost by an innings.

But unlike in 2015, the nature of the pitches meant South Africa had a chance to compete. Four years ago, India dished out raging turners for South Africa and took the four-match series 3-0, embarrasing the visitors with big wins in each match.

Now, India don't need the help of pitches - this isn't to say the pitches in 2015 were unfair or wrong - and are very confident about their ability to win irrespective of conditions.

Both in Visakhapatnam and Pune, India laid out 'normal' Indian tracks; batting friendly over the first two days before gradually wearing down. Du Plessis even called the Visakhapatnam pitch good; he'd have been happy to see such a wicket after the horrors of 2015.

And that's why South Africa will rue this series as a missed opportunity. Not to win a series or a Test - that's perhaps the toughest challenge in world cricket at the moment - but to compete.

Despite losing the toss, South Africa had decent batting conditions in both matches, but just couldn't step up or sustain for long periods.

The only time they did that was in the first innings in Visakhapatnam, when they made 431 in response to India's 502. Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock made centuries, du Plessis made a fifty and the lower order contributed.

It was as close to a perfect batting display as possible, although there was a top order wobble.

From there on, though, it was all downhill as they were bowled out for 191, 275 and 189 in the next three innings. It could have been worse if not for some rearguard batting from the lower order as they were 70-8, 53-5 and 79-5 in those three innings.

What South Africa would rue most would be the wickets they conceded to pace. Sure, India have a world class pace attack even in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah. But South Africa would have expected to do better than they did, for it's not as new a challenge as spin.

South Africa were blown away by Mohammed Shami in the second innings in Visakhapatnam. The up and down nature of the Day 5 track and Shami's consistency in hitting the stumps contributed, but their struggles continued in the first innings in Pune.

Umesh Yadav and Shami ran through the top order to leave them 53 for 5, with Umesh striking thrice. In the second innings too, the Indian pacers combined for five of the ten South Afican wickets.

Overall, 16 of the 40 South African wickets to fall in the series went to Indian pacers.

What South Africa would also be wondering about is 'what-ifs'. If only their top order could have stepped up a little more, they could have put up a bit more fight. And who knows, maybe even managed a draw in Visakhapatnam where they competed for four days.

South Africa's lower order batsmen offered resistance in each innings, showing the way for the top order. At the end of four innings, Keshav Maharaj, Senuran Muthusamy and Vernon Philander have more runs than Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn and Temba Bavuma.

Bavuma was frank in admitting that it 'hurts' the ego of top order batsmen when the lower order shows the way.

The what-ifs extend to the bowling too. They ran into big Indian batting performances in both the Tests but they were also guilty of being sloppy on the field, especially in Pune.

Things might have been different had they not dropped Virat Kohli on 1. There were also plenty of no-balls and general carelessness on the field.

South Africa might not have managed different results even if they had improved on all these counts. It's tough to beat India in India even if you bring your best possible game to the table.

But du Plessis & co would feel they failed in challenges they'd have expected to have more control over.

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