The young Indian batting line-up that fought so gallantly over the course of the Test series, finally wilted when it mattered most.
They would have returned home with a highly respectable drawn series had they batted out the fifth day of the second Test here on Monday. But the fire of South African bowlers and their own follies pushed them to a 0-1 series defeat.
Resuming from their overnight 68 for two, Indians were bundled out for 223, a score made possible by Ajinkya Rahane’s classy 96. South Africa cantered past the target of 58 without any loss to emerge a 10-wicket winner.
Tackling a final day Kingsmead pitch that hid no demons in it and the South African bowlers were not a task beyond them, but somehow they failed, dishing out the most inept batting show of the series.
Dale Steyn had opened the door for a South African comeback, grabbing six Indian wickets in their first innings, and the world’s premier fast bowler did the job again for them, of course with a touch of fortune. India’s hopes of surviving the day rested a lot on Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.
But Steyn shattered those hopes, dismissing Kohli in the first ball of the day, though the replays showed that the ball deflected off his shoulders en route AB de Villiers behind the stumps. Kohli couldn’t believe that he was given out, but he had no choice but to take a reluctant trudge back to the dressing room. Perhaps, it was an early indication that the day belonged to South Africa.
Milestone for Steyn
However, Steyn, who completed 350 Test wickets on the day, didn’t need the assistance of luck to dismiss Pujara. The ball seamed away just enough to rattle the off-stump even before Pujara could lower his bat. It was an absolute corker! Pujara and Kohli were back in the hut in the space of 12 balls, and along with their dismissals went India’s hopes of safeguarding the fort. They might have realized the improbability of trying to save the Test after those two early wickets, but the middle and late order batsmen couldn’t offer a meaningful fight.
It started with Rohit Sharma. The Mumbai lad had come to this series, riding on two consecutive hundreds against the West Indies at home. But he could make no impact on the series, and Steyn made it obvious too when he sledged Rohit: “I have got more runs than you.” Rohit survived a torrid time against Steyn and Morne Morkel, but couldn’t keep out Vernon Philander, who trapped the Mumbaikar plumb in front.
Rahane and skipper MS Dhoni offered a little passage of resistance, adding 42 in 10.3 overs. As the morning session moved swiftly towards its end, Indians may have hoped for a better turn of events but a very ordinary shot from Dhoni snapped the partnership.
Dhoni tried to flick Robin Petersen, but couldn’t keep the shot grounded, and Alviro Petersen accepted the dolly at mid-wicket. Dhoni walked back with a shake of head, and a whack on his pads with the bat, revealing his utter disappointment.
Dhoni’s intention to the play the flick, at least, was justified, but what Ravindra Jadeja did was beyond logic. Jadeja had slammed Petersen for a six, and when restraint was the catchword of the moment, he immediately went for another massive heave. Morkel had no difficulty in grabbing the catch as the South Africans fell into a wild celebration, knowing that a victory was not that far away.
But Rahane delayed the South African march with a pugnacious knock, fusing aggression and caution to a nicety.
The way he took on Steyn was a treat to the eyes, driving and cutting him with elan. Unfortunately, he had just the tail-enders for company, but still tried to put up a fight.
He clobbered a four and a six in successive balls off Philander to reach 96, and another attempt to send the pacer beyond the ropes brought curtains to his and India’s innings.
India a slender 57-run lead, was courtesy Rahane’s industriousness but that wasn’t enough even to stretch the South Africans. Openers Graeme Smith and Petersen knocked the required runs in 11.4 overs to win the series; a perfect farewell gift to Jacques Kallis.