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7 reasons why India lost the South Africa Test series

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Virat_Kohli_India_South_Africa_Test_cricketIndia were on a roll going into their series against South Africa. Most experts thought this was their best chance to register their first Test series win in the Rainbow nation.

India had won 9 consecutive Test series prior to this and had possibly their best and most balanced pace attack in the country’s 86-year history of Test cricket. However, they failed to capitalize on this opportunity and could not break their Test hoodoo in South Africa, losing the first Test at Newlands by 72 runs and the second Test at Centurion by 135 runs. Here’s why:

India’s openers went into a shell

Every Test team needs a good pair of openers to blunt the new ball and shield their middle order, give their side a good start, or both. In this series, the Indian openers barely got going and failed to trouble the scorers. In four innings in this series, the opening partnerships for India were 16, 30, 28 and 11.

This, coupled with Pujara’s lack of form, meant that India were often 3 wickets down for next to nothing. With the exception of Shikhar Dhawan, the openers showed no intent and plodded along, unable to score at a brisk rate.

Over reliance on Virat Kohli

Every team will have a few players they rely on to do the bulk of the scoring. Whose presence and ability to notch up big scores lifts the team. Kohli leads by example and has 6 double centuries as captain. But Kohli got no support from his top order batsmen and was left to shoulder the entire burden on his own.

Kohli scored 191 runs in 4 innings at an average of 47.75. The rest of the top order batsmen (batting at 1-5) scored a combined 242 runs from 16 innings at an average of 15.12, without even a single fifty. This meant that India kept posting below par totals that undid all the good work done by the bowlers.

Muddled team selection

All postmortems have the benefit of hindsight but it must be said: India made some dubious and questionable team selections in this series. They made a brave decision to go in with 5 bowlers and play just 5 frontline batsmen.

A lot was made of the decision to drop Ajinkya Rahane and play Rohit Sharma due to their current form. However, Rahane has been India’s best batsmen overseas. Rohit’s form against Sri Lanka at home should not have been reason enough to play him ahead of Rahane on the pitches in South Africa, where Rahane’s better technique were always more likely to fetch runs.

To compound matters, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who put in an inspired performance in the first Test, was inexplicably dropped for the second Test supposedly because the team management felt that the wicket at Centurion would aid pace and bounce and not offer much lateral movement. His prowess with the bat lower down the order was also missed.

Dropped catches, particularly in the slips

South Africa were streets ahead in the fielding department. In the second innings of the second Test, Morne Morkel pulled off a blinder to dismiss Parthiv Patel. AB de Villiers took a superb catch to dismiss Rohit Sharma.

Even in the slips India grassed quite a few chances and Ravichandran Ashwin in particular had quite a few chances dropped off his bowling. Unless India fix this epidemic, they will continue to lose Test matches away from home, where their bowlers struggle to create wicket taking opportunities as often as they do at home.

Failure to read the pitch

India is a team where there is a lot of competition for places and they usually cannot afford to play more than one spinner away from home, but the pitch for the second Test was dry. If ever India could have played two spinners in the playing XI in a country like South Africa, where the pitches favour the seamers, this was it.

Ravichandran Ashwin toiled valiantly on the first day at Centurion and bowled 31 overs but lacked support at the other end. Ravindra Jadeja could have been an inspired selection at the expense of one of the pacers if he had been selected.

Failure to acclimatize to the conditions

India were scheduled to play a two-day practice game before the first Test. They cancelled this, instead opting for center wicket practice. As most experts will say, this can never be a substitute for an actual match. The Indian batsmen’s lack of exposure to South African conditions showed in the two Test matches.

Inconsistent pace bowlers

In the first Test, Bhuvi had South Africa reeling at 12/3 but Shami and Bumrah did not provide adequate support, which led to South Africa posting an above par 286. In the second Test, Bumrah bowled well but Shami was lackluster in the first innings and took time to hit his straps in the second innings.

Whereas the South African quartet were relentless and hardly gave any loose deliveries for the Indian batsmen to hit. They provided no respite to the Indians. It may be a harsh thing to say, given that India took 40 wickets in the two Tests, but the Indian pacers were comprehensively outbowled by their South African counterparts.

 

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