Indian bowlers skittle the host cheaply but the batsmen fail to make good of the wonderful opportunity
The opportunity appeared and then disappeared for India on a dramatic day of fortune swings.
After the spirited pacemen had given them a gilt-edged shot at a rare Test win on the South African soil, the batsmen, lacking character, failed to apply themselves.
Even the sight of the majestic Table Mountain could not inspire the Indian batsmen. They stumbled on the chase.
Pursuing 208 with loads of time on hand, India, losing wickets in bunches and unable to build partnerships, was bundled out for 135 in the final session of the fourth day of the first Test. South Africa won by 72 runs to lead 1-0 in the three-Test series.
There was mayhem in the middle on Monday with as many as 18 wickets going down on a surface where the ball continued to seam around and bounce. At the end of it all, India finished at the wrong end of the result.
Only R. Ashwin (37), sound off his back-foot and appearing better equipped to handle these conditions than many specialists, offered some resistance before nicking an away seamer from Vernon Philander.
Wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock cleverly stood up to Philander in a bid to disrupt the rhythm of Ashwin, who had been standing outside the crease earlier to counter the movement. The ploy worked.
For South Africa — that lost its last eight wickets for 65 runs in a dramatic morning collapse to hand India a wonderful chance — Philander emerged the hero with his exemplary off-stump line, control over length and two-way seam movement.
His career-best six for 42 was underlined by commitment and craft. Philander is not quick but bowls in the right areas and can get the batsmen, who often don’t pick the direction of the seam movement, into a tangle.
The Steyn-less three-man South African pace attack — Steyn, however, hobbled out to bat in the morning – still stung.
The Indians began their chase with hope. Soon, things began to wrong.
Shikhar Dhawan’s rather clumsy attempt at a pull off Morkel saw him walking back. Vijay successfully reviewed leg-before and caught behind verdicts but was done in by a fuller delivery from Philander that shaped away; de Villiers held a brilliant catch at third slip.
And Chesteshwar Pujara got an absolute beauty of line, pace, movement, and bounce from Morkel.
Virat Kohli promised briefly, flicking Rabada to the fence. But then the Indian captain committed the folly of playing across to a delivery that cut back from Philander.
Rohit Sharma, never at ease, miscued a pull off Rabada only to see Keshav Maharaj drop a sitter. He, however, did not cash in, dragging a widish Philander delivery on to his stumps.
Hardik Pandya realized this game can be a great eventer. The all-rounder player away from his body at Rabada to see the mercurial de Villiers pluck a fine catch at gully.
Ashwin and the plucky Bhuvneshwar Kumar put together a partnership but once Philander found a way past Ashwin it was only a matter of time.
In the morning, the Indian pacemen sizzled. The surface, under covers for so long, held moisture and there was bound to be assistance for the pacemen.
The Indian pacemen exploited the conditions. Crucially, their line — on and around the off-stump — was probing. Those freebies on the pads were missing.
Mohammed Shami bowled with an amalgam of speed and movement from the press box end had Hashim Amla drawn to a delivery that seamed away from just short of a good length like a moth to fire.
India continued to make inroads. There is this X factor about Jasprit Bumrah; his long-lever action is hard to read and the batsman doesn’t quite know what to expect.
Faf du Plessis was bamboozled by a brutish Bumrah delivery that rose sharply from a length on the off-stump and kissed the glove on its way to ‘keeper Saha.
The quick-footed de Villiers waged a lone battle even as he witnessed the carnage from the other end.