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SA vs IND, Centurion: A Protea tour and a new check point

SA vs IND, Kohli stand alone in the second innings

On Christmas, South Africa was the final frontier to breach for India; three days before the New Year in 2024, it still remains the same. South Africa tours are always about new checkpoints in Indian cricket; it’s about either making the country believe and dream for something special, or about watching it getting destroyed. In all SA vs IND Test clashes in South Africa, India stays away from the target and returns free handed.

By the time Virat Kohli was creaming those boundaries with the tailenders at the near end of the Test, the sky which looked blue for most part of the day, got its grey color back. As if, it was portraying  the face of Indian camp, and by the time Rahul Dravid was strolling on the ground after the game, the water starts to drop.

South Africa is different and perhaps the toughest place

Why is South Africa so tough for this side, or for any side? South Africa is tough, whether you believe it or not! In Australia, the ball generally bounces so much, but the wickets are really flat, that batters generally love their timing to score those runs.

England is a place, bowlers enjoy the most; chilly weather, the ball nips around all the time in the UK, and even with a 60 over old Dukes’ ball, the set batter could be venerable.

South Africa is different. There is pace to enjoy for the speedsters like Dale Steyn or Kagiso Rabada, and bounce to enjoy for the tall and lanky pacers, like Morne Morkel, or in present one could say Marco Jansen. It’s a great batting track, one could ask to Hashim Amla or Graeme Smith or Ab de Villiers. And then there is spin, not everywhere, but in specific places. The ball tends to grip a little at Kingsmead in Durban, with a spin average of mid 20s.

And then there is seam movement and some of the pitches like in Centurion, those bowlers who could bowl in a handkerchief area gain success, and for batters, they need gut and bit of luck, or some more luck. Chris Woakes or Mohammad Abbas from Pakistan is the bowler, in case you are wondering.

2018 SA vs IND Test
©- Twitter/X
CP1: The series in 2018 made India believe in winning away Tests:

They saw the dream so early, when Kohli took a partial charge in 2014 against Australia in Adelaide. When he took the full charge and brought a new dimension and energy in the game, they start to trust these teams. The bowlers start to take 20 wickets of the opposition.

India lost the first Test at Newlands, in Cape Town in 2018, but the fiery bowling against the Proteas was something else. They exhibited a new pacer, Jasprit Bumrah and then they got a fit looking India bowling in Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. In the backups, there was Umesh Yadav or Ishant Sharma.

India lost the series 2-0 by the second game in Centurion. But the third Test at the Bullring showed different signs. From the very first ball of the Test, the ball was bouncing on an awkward position and variable bounce was like the friend of the track. India somehow reached over 185, and kept SA under 200.

The umpires and even the SA players were so worried that they almost came to an agreement to stop the Test, but Kohli denied. There was the energy, and there was the vision of something big. The series was gone, the there could be big blows in the body of the batters, but Kohli made the biggest step. India reached 247, the highest on four innings of the track, and destroyed SA to 177.

That was the start of a new dream, a beginning of watching India rule over World Cricket in Test matches. By the time that year ends, they were close to beat England in an away series, however the score line of 4-1 may suggest something different, and then they beat Australia in a Test series for the very first time. Dream unlocked!

CP 2: So near, yet so far in the 2021-’22 tour

India was more prepared and almost familiar in the Virat era. In an period, where they know to give the opposition answer just the way the question would be asked.

They won the first Test in Centurion and that was a huge victory by 113 runs. In a game, where only India went past the 200 run easily in the first innings, 113 was a huge margin. The way South Africa batted and looked so timid against India; the record-breaking moment was in the air in this country.

Elgar reaches his century vs IND
©-The Cricketer/ Twitter

They reached Wanderers, but in the morning, found their captain needed to skip the Test with back spasm. When they made 202 on that track, the anticipation was that the bowlers would again bring them back in the game and they did it again. The energy was more around the bowling group in Kohli era, and rightly so. When was the time before that India used to get excited in an away series with their bowling? Not in 2014 Wellington for sure, 210 overs they toiled in the field for almost three days.

The 244 wasn’t going to be an easy chase for SA at Wanderers, but they stayed there and Dean Elgar with his gut and gritty batting took them home. One could argue that lack wasn’t in their favor with that many plays and misses and not a single dismissals got life from that. But there wasn’t much energy in the field, there wasn’t much talk or may be it felt outside the ground. You bet you believe so!

They lost the last Test and with that the vision got vanished in a few days. With no such big names available in the SA shirt except their captain or Temba Bavuma to some extent, it remained only a golden opportunity.

CP 3: Year 2023 ends, and the dream becomes a hallucination:

These time there were more freebies. There was a new looking South Africa batting side, their bowling group is bit new and inexperienced. A Test opener almost was going to hang up his shoes. But South Africa knew it clearly. Elgar in his interview before the series said it clearly that he wasn’t lost of the fact that SA remained India’s final frontier. And he won’t let it happen in this time too.

SA vs IND, Centurion: First there was KL Rahul, Now there stays Dean Elgar

Well, he does, as he said. On that pitch 245 looked outstanding, and specially when you got an early wicket. But then you let it slip away. On the start of a new session, you didn’t think of starting with your special new ball bowler. And things just slipped.

The moment a team gives away 145 or 136 runs for couple of wickets in a single session, 90-95% times they lose. And then you are playing on a track that had variable bounce. When they came up to batting, they played on wrong line and length, few missed the straight balls, few were shaky.

And then there was Kohli, who was sweeping in India in the last few months, brought up his cut and pull shot square of the wicket. That’s the judgment one excepts from a top-class batter. And it’s unbelievable how he keeps on maintaining the same rhythm and little change from tour to tour. And if you still don’t know, he is not the captain anymore of the side, and with him, the energy was gone.

The fielding was pathetic in the three days. Whether against spinners or pacers, the understanding of taking the catches were not visible. And the list of mistakes is countless.

And if you are wondering of drawing the series in Newlands, just leaving you with the fact that India is yet to beat SA in a Test in Cape Town. Now somehow the year 2023 ends, but the only thing continues is India’s wait for an away Test series victory in South Africa.

That Mad Writer
Author: That Mad Writer

Someone who loves how Steve Smith from being Australia's future Shane Warne has become present Don Bradman, gets inspired by Anderson's longevity, gets awed with Kohli's drive and Southee's bowling action. Never gets excited with stats and records, and believes in instincts, and always questions spinners bowling with the new ball.

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