After registering their first Test win at Centurion, India went to play the second Test at Johannesburg, a place where the tourists hadn’t ever lost a match in the longest format, winning twice and drawing thrice. But within four days, South Africa handed them a seven-wicket loss, their first-ever defeat at the Wanderers. We explore the reasons where India lost the plot at Johannesburg ahead of the decider at Cape Town from January 11:
1. Batting collapses (especially in the first innings)
“I don’t want to be harsh but I think batters should have scored more in the first innings after winning the toss.” Stand-in captain KL Rahul’s words in the post-match presentation ceremony summed up one of the biggest reasons where India faltered in Johannesburg.
In the first Test, India had the cushion of a 117-run opening stand between KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal to post 327 despite the middle order not coming to the party. But in the second Test, Rahul, Agarwal, Pujara and Rahane fell quickly, reducing India to 91/4 at one stage. It took a fighting 46 from Ravichandran Ashwin for India to cross 200. In the second innings, though Pujara and Rahane along with Shardul Thakur and Hanuma Vihari starred to post 266, the damage from the first innings eventually proved to be costly.
2. Pant’s brain-fade in the second innings
Rishabh Pant is someone who has the ability to turn around the game in a jiffy. On his good days, he can make the difference and on his bad days, well, he becomes the point of difference. In the second innings, after Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were dismissed, especially with the duo scoring half-centuries, Pant’s role was to carry the good work forward.
But Kagiso Rabada had other ideas. After being beaten outside the off-stump, Rabada rattled Pant with a snorter of a delivery, hitting him on the gloves after sneaking past his helmet grille. On the very next ball, Pant came dancing down the pitch to slog a short ball from Rabada but gave a feather edge behind to keeper Kyle Verreynne.
Pant’s attempt to slog Rabada made for an ugly look, drawing criticism from all quarters, which led to head coach Rahul Dravid saying that they might have discussions with the youngster on playing certain shots. He also dropped Keegan Petersen’s catch at 12 in the first innings, which proved to be costly as the batter made a fifty in the first innings and South Africa took a slender 27-run lead.
3. Not making it big
KL Rahul was the prime example of making it big and playing a huge role in India winning the first Test with 123 in the first innings. In the second Test, Rahul reached half-century but got out at the half-way mark. In contrast, Dean Elgar, the South Africa captain, was rock-solid and battled hard to hang around to ensure victory for his team. Getting a start and not making it big costed India a lot.
It was something which Dravid had pointed out in the virtual press conference. “Maybe some of the guys who got starts could have converted into hundreds and that was the difference in the first Test as we had Rahul in the first game, who had got a hundred for us and we ended up on the winning side. And in the second game, they had someone (Elgar) scoring 96 and they ended up on the winning side.”
4. Lack of big partnerships
After day one of the first Test, opener Mayank Agarwal had said that knitting partnerships and making them bigger was a highlight. But in the second Test, India had some big partnerships but did not come at a consistent rate. Sample this: India’s best three partnerships in the first innings were 42, 40 and 36 while South Africa’s best three partnerships in the first essay were 74, 60 and 38. In the second innings, barring the 111-run stand between Pujara and Rahane, India didn’t have a half-century association to back it up. South Africa, while chasing 240, strung partnerships of 47, 46, 84 and 68 not out to win the match.
India will be hoping that they can get back to their highlight of stitching large partnerships in Cape Town, which was also emphasised by Dravid. “We have to certainly look to seize a few key moments and certainly when you get those partnerships, maybe make them a little bit longer.”
5. Siraj injury
When one of the four wheels of a car gets punctured, then it affects the movement of the vehicle. Same thing happened with India’s bowling attack when Mohammed Siraj suffered a right hamstring strain on day one of the Johannesburg Test. Though Siraj came back to bowl on day two, he was operating at way below his optimum levels. In the second innings, Siraj bowled just six overs.
Before being injured, Siraj had posed tough questions to Elgar. Not being at his fittest best left India wondering what a fully fit Siraj could have done.
6. Missing Kohli the captain
Perhaps, not having the services of Kohli the captain did hurt India. With Kohli being ruled out before the start of second Test, KL Rahul didn’t have much time to think of plans as the stand-in skipper. Kohli was a fiery captain and used to inspire the team to do well on the field, which had an effect on tight victories in Johannesburg 2018 and Lord’s 2021. But with no Kohli here, India missed his in-your-face attitude and ability to fire up things with his intensity.
In the second innings, Rahul brought in Thakur, someone who could swing the ball, nine overs late. There, India missed a trick as the swing bowler could have made use of moisture on pitch and overcast conditions. His field placings left a lot to be desired as South Africa picked up runs easily.