India vs South Africa: Youngsters shine for Proteas, Pant’s return to form and other takeaways from Tests – Firstcricket News, Firstpost

The Indian team that landed in Johannesburg last month had been enjoying a red-hot run in Test cricket in 2021, beating Australia in Australia and gaining a 2-1 lead over England in England. Naturally, many expected the side to steamroll an inexperienced South African team in their own backyard and conquer what has been labelled the ‘Final Frontier’.

The 3-0 predictions grew only louder after the visitors cruised to a 113-run win in the Boxing Day Test at Centurion inside four days, a game in which the home team never looked like they were in any position to challenge Virat Kohli and company.

And yet, three weeks since the series got underway at the SuperSport Park, India’s dream of winning a Test series on South African soil remains just that, a dream. The South Africans appeared to have adopted the ‘New Year, New Me’ mantra in the remainder of the series as they bounced back in style after conceding a 1-0 lead.

The next two games at Johannesburg and Cape Town would witness the pace unit breathe fire, and the batting department would make a cakewalk out of the 200-plus targets set in both games to fashion consecutive seven-wicket wins.

The series win not only preserves their unbeaten home record against the Indians, their supporters will certainly hope this marks the dawn of a new era under Dean Elgar’s leadership.

Before we shift our attention to the one-dayers that begin later this week, we take a look at some of the highlights from the bygone series, which turned out to be Kohli’s last as India captain in the red-ball format after his shocker of an announcement on Saturday.

Here are the five takeaways from the three Tests:

Pant remains a vital cog in India’s middle order

Though his glovework behind the stumps has improved by leaps and bounds over the years, the evidence of which was on display during the Test series, Pant had come under criticism for his form with the bat in recent games as well as for throwing his wicket away at a crucial stage in the Johannesburg Test, in which he allowed himself to get carried away by the constant chirping from the close-in fielders.

Pant, however, silenced his critics at Newlands with a knock of a lifetime, remaining unbeaten on 100 that accounted for more than half of the 198 runs India scored in the second essay.

Indian batsman Rishabh Pant celebrates his 100 during the third day of the third and final test match between South Africa and India in Cape Town. AP Photo

He arrived at the crease at a time when India had lost two quick wickets, played the aggressor when Kohli was blocking his way through at the other end, showed great judgement in respecting the good deliveries from the in-form seamers and punished the loose ones whenever they came his way.

The third Test would’ve finished a lot quicker had it not been for his resistance. If anything, the knock actually gave India hope of finishing victors.

India’s seniors continue to disappoint

The spotlight was focused firmly on Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane heading into the Test series, which was seen as something of a final shot at redemption for the senior duo, especially after the breakthrough debut of Shreyas Iyer and the consistency displayed by Hanuma Vihari.

Though they performed well in patches — both bringing up their half-centuries and sharing a 111-run stand in Jo’burg — they simply couldn’t convert their starts into three-figure scores, which is exactly what an under-fire batter needs to send a message to the selectors and the team’s leadership that they’ve still what it takes to excel at this level.

Barring their 111-run partnership in the second innings in Johannesburg, in which both batters scored fifties, the Test series wasn't a productive one for veterans Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. AFP

Barring their 111-run partnership in the second innings in Johannesburg, in which both batters scored fifties, the Test series wasn’t a productive one for veterans Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. AFP

That the pair ended up collecting a combined 260 runs across six innings, their averages a little over 20, hardly inspires confidence and the lack of runs from their blades did hurt the Indian cause, with batting collapses being pointed to as the primary reason behind India’s series loss.

It would be nothing short of a miracle if the two retain their positions the next time India plays a Test. For some, their pair might have made their last appearance in an Indian jersey already.

Youngsters come to the fore for the Proteas

Some mistook South Africa’s inexperience in the ranks for ineptitude. And the way the likes of Keegan Petersen and Marco Jansen grabbed their opportunities in the Test series and played a key role in the Proteas’ come-from-behind 2-1 series win showed just how wrong some experts and fans were in labelling this the “weakest ever South African team”.

Jansen, who had bowled to the likes of Kohli in the nets the last time the Indians toured South Africa in 2018, was handed his maiden cap at Centurion. The left-arm seamer started off shakily and was erratic in his first innings, but managed to put that setback behind and dazzled in the remainder of the series. Utilising his height to good effect and with an attitude to match, as was evident in his duel with Mumbai Indians teammate Jasprit Bumrah, the Proteas may have discovered yet another fast-bowling gem in the lanky seamer.

Petersen, who had settled into the No 3 spot during the tour of the Caribbean earlier in the year, went one step further and actually stole the show in the series, bagging the Player of the Match award in the decider at Newlands for his twin fifties and was also the Player of the Series for his consistent run with the bat that was the result of an assured strokeplay and a great temperament.

While Petersen was the leading run-getter, Jansen finished second in the bowling charts.

Elgar leads from the front

Dean Elgar certainly is showing a lot of promise as the Test leader, the position he took over in a full-time capacity from Quinton de Kock in the tour of West Indies earlier in 2021, and the way he led his team from the front in the 2-1 victory over the No 1 Test side in the world will give supporters reason to believe in a more stable, successful run down the road.

during the fourth day of the third and final test match between South Africa and India in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

South Africa came from 1-0 down to beat India 2-1 in the Test series. AP

Elgar might not have been as overtly expressive on the field and as chirpy as his Indian counterpart, but was just as tough in taking blows to his body during his unbeaten 96 in the run chase at the Wanderers, a knock that some consider as the turning point in the series. In the face of some hostile spells from the Jasprit Bumrah-led attack, along with the challenge of scoring 240 on a surface that wasn’t exactly a batting paradise, Elgar’s bloody-mindedness proved to be the difference.

Elgar was just as impressive in marshalling his troops and was able to get the best out of the bowling department after a lacklustre display in the first innings at Centurion.

“Ultimately, if you want to operate at our performance levels, you need tough chats and I’m a bit of old-school mentality with a new-school twist. I laid a few challenges, even to some of the senior players as well. It was great to see the guys take my message on board,” Elgar said in the post-match presentation ceremony at Newlands.

Kohli and the DRS saga

The series that nearly did not take place due to an alarming COVID-19 situation in its build-up ended up producing some high-quality action and witnessed some intense battles along the way. An incident on the penultimate day of the series decider, however, nearly cast a shadow on what turned out to be a terrific series, while also questioning the accuracy of modern-day technology that has taken over the game.

The HawkEye prediction of the ball going over the stumps after skipper Elgar had initially been adjudged LBW off Ravichandran Ashwin’s bowling sent India skipper Kohli and his troops into a meltdown.

Dean Elgar was given not out on review off an R Ashwin delivery. Image: Twitter

Dean Elgar was given not out on review off an R Ashwin delivery. Image: Twitter

The Indians had the right to feel hard-done-by by the decision, especially since they were desperate for a breakthrough, but for them to accuse the broadcasters, and to a larger extent, a nation of cheating and of conspiring against the eleven visiting players on the field showed just how thin the line was between aggression and boorishness when it came to the current Indian team’s on-field behaviour. Kohli would even go so far as to lean into the stump microphone and accuse the broadcasters of deliberately targeting the away team.

Elgar did not last for too long after that overturned decision, as he was caught-behind off Bumrah’s bowling at the stroke of stumps. Kohli and his gang, however, were slammed after the day’s play on social media for their antics, with many accusing them of being bad losers.

The attention over the incident, however, could also ensure ICC is a lot more careful about the HawkEye technology and its accuracy going forward, and will try to ensure such flare-ups are avoided and that the technology that is supposed to revolutionise the game doesn’t end up creating more problems than solutions.

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