The stage was set for what could have been a historic Test victory. India had managed to wrap the South African line-up in the first morning of Day 4. As many as eight wickets were taken for just 71 runs and India visualised a famous win with 208 to get in the second essay. The start of the run-chase too was calm and composed. Thirty on the board and India had managed to go wicketless until Morne Morkel got the better of Shikhar Dhawan. From here on began a collapse of sorts. M Vijay followed suit and nine runs later Cheteshwar Pujara was sent back by a peach of a delivery from Morkel.
Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma did try to steady things in the middle, but the moment South Africa saw Virat’s back, they steam rolled the line-up courtesy Vernon Philander who looked like taking a wicket every delivery.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Bhuvneshwar Kumar applied themselves, showed intent and sprung up hopes of a miraculous comeback, but that too was short-lived as Ashwin was caught behind – again off Philander. India faltered and succumbed to a 72-run defeat. The bowlers had done their job, but it was the batsmen who had let the team down, believed captain Virat.
“We let ourselves down with the bat, that’s for sure. Losing wickets in bunches never helps winning Tests or consolidating your position,” Virat said. “208 felt chaseable, felt very realistic but we needed someone to go out there and get 75 or 80 and not 20-25-30 runs. We wanted one big partnership to get the job done which we failed to do.”
Yes, India were put under pressure on many occasions – first with the bat when the team was in tatters in the first innings until Hardik Pandya played out of his skin for a gutsy 93 and then when South Africa had a healthy lead to bank on – to which the bowlers responded with some discipline. Definitely a positive for the team, but not something that the team can harp on for long according to Virat. “Having been put under pressure twice, we came back really nicely into the game and gave ourselves a fair chance of winning this Test match even after not having played our best cricket. We can take a lot of positives out of this but at the same time we need to be realistic and understand our mistakes and correct them in the next one.
“Twenty wickets to win a Test match is the priority. But if your batsmen don’t bat well then it doesn’t matter, if you are not getting close to their total,” Virat continued. “We needed to bat better than what we did. Hardik showed great character in the first innings to get us to that total. If we had them 50 or 60 less in the first innings when we let them off in the last few wickets things could have been different. Even now we lost by only 70-odd. Might sound big but we understand where the game was, even today we feel really disappointed by how things went on. We needed if not one big partnership then every wicket adding 30-35 would have done the job for us. We needed to show more character with the bat there is no question about it.”
Time to make amends, but how? “Maybe we need to be more positive in the next innings and take their bowlers on and get good runs on the board just like they did when they were put under pressure,” Virat replied. “That’s probably one way of encountering that kind of bowling attack, but again they force you to play good cricket in every over you play against them. I think it is a big credit to their bowling attack but as a batting unit we really need to step up.
“Hardik did that really well in the first innings, Ashwin was really positive in the second innings but if five-six of us can have that mindset, starting from the top, it will really create that sort of momentum for us as a batting unit which, I think, we lacked in both the innings. A brilliant performance with the bat got us back into the game, otherwise we were pretty similar to the situation we were in the second innings. We definitely need batsmen to apply themselves and show more character.”
Virat reserved some special praise for his bowlers who he believed bowled their hearts out to get the team back into the game. He believed, if the team got back to drawing board and went through the same grind, they had a good chance of coming back strong in the second Test.
“We feel for the bowlers because they bowled their hearts out. We had a chat this morning and we wanted people to step up and get us wickets. A guy like Jasprit (Bumrah) bowled beautifully in his first Test match, he troubled the batsmen a lot this morning. Mohammed Shami bowled his heart out, Bhuvi was good as well and not having done the job, they will also be gutted about it.
“We need to show more character with that bat, the bowlers are bowling really well, and if they continue with the same and if we step up with the batting, we have good chance of creating result opportunities again.”