The good thing about Virat Kohli the captain is that he does not make excuses. After India fluffed their chance of creating history and winning a series in South Africa for the first time, Kohli did not point to the close calls that did not go in India’s favour. The Indian captain did not point to the DRS issues that certainly seemed to get the team hot under the collar. Kohli did not linger on what might have been had luck favoured his team more, in terms of edges being drawn when batsmen were beaten or catches going to hand. Instead, he focussed on where his team had lost their way.
“We have had too many batting collapses,” Kohli said. “Of course, batting failure has been the reason, no doubt about that.” India’s top order simply did not set up matches robustly enough for their bowlers to do their thing. Kohli also admitted that his team, usually mentally tough and intent on doing for the kill from ball one, did not sustain the intensity as they have in their recent overseas wins.
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“There was some lapse of concentration from us as well in key moments. I thought South Africa performed better in those key moments and totally deserved the win. One of the challenges that we have faced touring abroad is to capitalise on momentum when it is on our side,” said Kohli. “Whenever we have done that, we’ve won games. But on other hand, when we haven’t done so, we have lost matches due to 30-45 minutes of cricket where we have batted badly.”
In this series, there certainly have been 30-45-minute passages in which the team has batted badly. But, more importantly, there have been very few sessions in which the team has batted as they could have and should have. The partnership between Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul in the first innings of the first Test now feels like a distant dream. Then there was one stand between Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara that gave the sense that a corner had been turned. Both of these ended up being false dawns.
The trend for India over the last two years has been an inability for the batting to take collective responsibility and put big runs on the board. In this series, this was glaringly exposed. Only once did the team make more than 300, and after that their scores read 174, 202, 266 and 223 and 198.
These are not the scores of a team that boasts the collective experience that this Indian team does. These are not the scores of a team that can dominate an opposition bowling attack, or, at the very least, blunt it. When you don’t have enough runs on the board, it becomes impossible to put pressure back on the opposition. This meant that South Africa were able to always stay either in control of the game or within touching distance of what was needed at any given point in time.
If you think about it, South Africa were nothing special with the bat either. In the entire series, not one batsman from the home team made a century — although Dean Elgar was well on his way to one, unbeaten on 96 when the second Test was won. And yet, South Africa’s inexperienced batsmen managed to lift their team. In Keegan Petersen, South Africa have unearthed a gem. He looks boyishly young but has been around long enough to play more than 100 first class matches and therefore understand his game well and also realise what it takes to succeed at the top.
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Rassie van der Dussen is spoken of very highly in South Africa, and though he has not managed to get the big scores, he showed just the right temperament to get the job done in two chases. Sometimes, you have to make the most of what you have, rather than hope for something you don’t, and this was the case with South Africa in this series. India had the big names, the big contracts and the wow factor coming into the series. But reputations don’t win you matches, performances do. And on this count, the home side was able to rise to the occasion, almost in sync with India slowly but surely fading away.
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