Virat Kohli as a captain hasn't lost a Test defending 200 or more runs.
After a year of breaching other team’s fortresses, whether in Brisbane or Centurion, India turned out on the losing end against all odds at their away fortress, Wanderers in Johannesburg to kick off the year 2022. It was quite unexpected for the whole world, especially considering the way the tourists began the series at SuperSports Park.
To be fair, a fan always tries to squeeze up some reasons for the loss of his team but in this case, South Africa deserved their due credit; the way they bowled in both innings with proper planning and batted with grit and fighting skill, was second to none.
Proteas gained momentum in the nick of time to get back Test glory
Back in those old goldens days, all cricketing countries used to be afraid of playing any format against the South Africans both home and away; all the fifteen players in the squad had their own abilities to win the game. The clock has moved away with them taking retirements resulting in black clouds hovering over their game and legacy. It is never easy for any cricketing board to be on the same pitch or intensity with so many players bidding adieu together; Sri Lankan cricket was witness to this same fate after the retirement of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Even though with all the wounds, of late, the Proteas had done well in the red-ball format; winning against an under-performing Sri Lankan team, giving some fight in an away Pakistan series and achieving victory in West Indies comprehensively before gaining few brownie points in the T20I World Cup 2021. But quite honestly, they weren’t getting their mojo back and trust in their abilities to propel them higher. India arrived and blew them at the SuperSports Park to break their old fortress Centurion.
The South African cricket team had arrived in the tourist’s comfort zone, the Bull Ring, and like a proper bolt from the blue had found out that their classy and veteran campaigner Quinton de Kock had hung up his Test shoes.
Even though they played some excellent cricket, the Dean Elgar-led side were up against a record fourth innings chase against a charged up Indian pace bowling unit. All they sought was probably some inspiration and their leader Elgar showed his hard character with rigidity and “going over my dead-body” mindset. He was well supported by young blood in the form of a determined Rassie van der Dussen and a clunky Keegan Petersen.
Cheer for all the runs from the home dressing room and the roar that the players made after Elgar punched a Ravichandran Ashwin delivery to mid-wicket was a moment of writing the first page of South Africa’s old golden legacy; the whole world should start shivering now.
Did India miss Virat Kohli, the captain?
Captaincy is no doubt hard and Test Cricket makes it even harder; but how can it be so demanding with the batters scoring runs and the bowlers were picking wickets? When pressure gets the better of them, all ten in the field scratch their heads looking at their skipper.
During the second Test at Wanderers, KL Rahul had to walk out for toss wearing the Indian Test blazer for the very first time as Virat Kohli was out of the game due to a back spasm. As the game went deep, the question grabbed new life, “Did India miss Virat Kohli, the leader?”
Kohli, as captain, is yet to smell defeat defending 200 or more runs and had led his side successfully to trump the hosts dominantly to end 2021 at Centurion. As mentioned earlier, nothing could be said to take away credit from South Africa who chased a record 240 runs at Wanderers but were India that bad to lose by 7 wickets?
Certainly, the aggression and the on-field intensity of Kohli, India’s most successful leader in this format, was missed preciously. The Delhi boy who frames Test cricket as the best version of the game, always keeps an eye-to-eye contact with the opponents and burns a fire in his bowlers. Not so long ago, India had won the Lord’s Test almost in 50 overs and if one turns the clock four years back to Wanderers 2018, Kohli’s leadership was outstanding in terms of setting the field or manoeuvering his bowlers with proper planning.
When on the last day, under overcast conditions and floodlights being on, Rahul threw the ball to Ravichandran Ashwin in the second over keeping Mohammed Shami away, it did raise eyebrows of the whole world. In those old days of 70s and 80s, few skippers used to be as good as Clive Lloyd or Ian Chappell in being aggressive with their pace batteries. For India, a feisty skipper like Ganguly in the 2000s also utilized his bowlers well to get rare away Test victories and now Kohli does that with aplomb with a credible fast bowling attack. So, Rahul may have his point tactically but the spirit of going for the kill with a small score to defend demanded more faith in his pace bowlers.
The Australian or English fans will love the academic nice characters in Rahul Dravid or MS Dhoni but surely will hate to observe ‘c’ besides Kohli’s name.
However, India can welcome their regular captain in the series-decider at Cape Town, given he regains full fitness.
What went wrong for India
Some will cite the reason for the loss being the bad form of India’s two experienced players, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, resulting in them being sent back for low scores in the first innings, while some will put that nonsense shot of Rishabh Pant in the second innings as a reason, some may say Jasprit Bumrah being off-radar in the second innings was detrimental to India’s prospects but at the end of the day, stand-in captain KL Rahul had expressed the right cause, “If I want to be harsh, the first innings total of 202 was at least 50-60 runs short.”
There were some soft dismissals, one could remember Shardul Thakur giving catching practice to the gully fielder, the captain himself running out of patience; one could still point a finger on Rishabh Pant’s reckless shot in which he dreamt to grab six runs hitting the ball back to Centurion but ended up getting a faint edge. “We’ll have conversations with Pant around his shot selection,” Coach Rahul Dravid stated in a press conference.
Definitely, Mohammed Siraj’s hamstring injury didn’t help India as the fast bowler wasn’t even able to run with his full run-up. Also, in a way, it felt that KL Rahul hadn’t grabbed good marks in his captaincy exam in setting an attacking field but he hardly had anything to do when South Africa were going closer to the target.
Therefore, fingers can be pointed on many things but fairly enough, South Africa had somehow put a foot ahead when they restricted the tourists on a low first innings score. Nonetheless, both the teams will move to Cape Town for the series decider to be played from January 11.