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SA vs IND: Dissecting Rohit Sharma's captaincy blunders in Centurion

South Africa vs India, Centurion Test: Dissecting Rohit Sharma's captaincy blunders in Centurion. Reason why India lost first Test against South Africa.

South Africa vs India, Centurion Test_ Dissecting Rohit Sharma's captaincy blunders in Centurion. _ Walking Wicket (Photo_ ©X_Twitter)
Rohit Sharma's captaincy was questioned in Centurion Test (Photo: ©X/Twitter)

Much was expected from Team India when they embarked on their journey to South Africa for a 2-match Test series. India have been one of the dominant Test teams in recent times and the Rohit Sharma-led side was touted as favourites to clinch their first series win in the whites on South African soil.

However, contrary to the expectations, Team India failed to show up and slumped to one of their worst-ever Test defeats in recent memory. This is just the 5th time in the last decade that India lost by an inning. This means they will not be able to complete their first Test series win in South Africa, their final frontier.

So, what went wrong for India in the first Test match at Centurion? They played pretty poor cricket throughout the game and this was reflected in the heavy defeat that followed. Let’s talk about some glaring captaincy decisions which in hindsight could be factors for one of India’s poor shows in overseas conditions.

Starting the new session with an inexperienced bowling duo

India could accumulate 245 runs in the first innings, thanks to a splendid innings from KL Rahul. This gave the visitors some momentum before their bowling essay and India’s new bowlers did pretty well in the initial spell.

But it was the first change of bowlers, Prasidh Krishna and Shardul Thakur, who were a major disappointment throughout the Test match. And guess who Rohit Sharma went with the ball at the start of the post-lunch session on day 2 when South Africa was at 49/1. It was this duo of Krishna and Thakur who started the proceedings.

They gave the South Africa batters Dean Elgar and Tony de Zorzi an opportune time to settle and pile up quick runs. Especially Elgar was able to take the game away from India with his monumental 185 and the question of “what could have been” if the pair of Mohammed Siraj and Jasprit Bumrah had a burst in place of Krishna-Thakur at the start of a new session. 

This move had a part to play with India giving advantage to South Africa on a tricky batting surface at Centurion.

Underestimating the South Africa team

Did India and Rohit Sharma miss a trick by travelling with a largely inexperienced batting unit on the tour of South Africa? The answer after the first match seems to be a big yes. 

South Africa has been a tough place to tour, especially for Asian countries and only Sri Lanka have managed to win a Test series there. India have won only 4 Tests in this African nation and one of the reasons is that the touring teams find the conditions hard to adjust.

India went into this tour devoid of any experience in their batting apart from Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma. For the likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, and Shreyas Iyer, it is their first Test assignment in South Africa and all the 3 were found struggling in those conditions.

The 2 India batters who were successful were Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, and this shows that experience counts. At this stage, it looks like India could have taken at least one or more senior batters (Ajinkya Rahane or Cheteshwar Pujara) to the tour instead of preferring players who have no prior experience playing in South Africa. This shows that India have massively underestimated the hosts as they are in a transitioning phase and are currently building a Test team.

Tactically not sound

While Rohit Sharma is a brilliant white-ball skipper having led India to World Cup final and Mumbai Indians to 5 IPL titles, he is relatively new to red-ball captaincy. This was the first time he led the side in a Test at SENA (apart from the WTC Final against Australia).

The inexperience clearly showed in his captaincy at various stages. When India got 2 quick wickets at 2 different stages (Zorzi and Keegan Petersen, & David Bendingham and Kyle Verreyenne), they couldn’t put sustained pressure on the hosts and instead, the new batters coming in next were allowed to get settled, be it Bendingham or Marco Jansen. This shows Rohit Sharma is yet to master the art of Test captaincy, something which Virat Kohli is very good at.

The latter never let the game drift at that stage when he was at the helm and it is interesting to note, that when Kohli was a stand-in skipper at the non-availability of Rohit on the field, India captured 2 of those wickets. So Rohit Sharma would be better off getting suggestions from the rest of his teammates at some point in time.

It is still early days in the Test captaincy tenure for Rohit Sharma and we can’t be overtly critical of him based on this game alone. India will have a chance to bounce back and level the series at 1-1 when the teams square off at Capetown for the 2nd and final game on January 3rd, 2024.


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