It was, instead, heart-warming to see one of the pace architects of the victory, Jasprit Bumrah, run casually up to skipper Virat Kohli and give him a pat on the back. Kohli responded, as he usually does, with a dismissive smile, just his way of displaying some hard-won pride.
SCORECARD | AS IT HAPPENED
Progress is measured in milestones, and Thursday’s 113-run win over South Africa in the first Test is a quantum leap. India’s first-ever Test victory at this bastion for the home team — SA have now lost only three out of 27 Tests here, and never lost to any Asian team before this – brings definitive indication that Virat Kohli’s men have upended traditional beliefs of the team being poor travellers.
This is a cycle that began on South African shores in 2018 and brings to a full circle the evolution of the team’s pace battery into a well-tuned machine of doom. India have lusted after just this kind of fast-bowling wealth for generations. Understandably, they are now in a hurry to make amends.
The year began with a victory that brought sounds of revolution in its wake, the three-wicket win at another fortress, that of the Gabba in Brisbane. Victories at Lord’s, the Oval and now Centurion have followed, just like in 2018, the only other instance of India winning four Tests outside Asia in a calendar year. “This is always a difficult place to play and we had to be absolutely clinical,” said Kohli.
In Bumrah, Mohammed Shami (8/107 in the match) and Mohammed Siraj, India have three unique examples of the art of fast bowling. Bumrah, quirky, deceptive, whippy, a bio-mechanist’s nightmare, can use the crease and will the ball to move at pace. He can make magic, like he did with Dean Elgar‘s wicket on the last day against the run of play in a tricky period of play for India before lunch, and the van der Dussen dismissal the day before.
Elgar (77 off 156 balls; 12×4) began positively and as South Africa piled up the runs, there were moments of doubt. Was India’s second-innings total enough? Why wasn’t the pitch acting up as much as on Day 4? Enter Bumrah and the infamous Centurion crack. A low, seaming-in brute of a ball, and Elgar had gone far too across and missed the glance. With that LBW, South Africa’s resistance evaporated.
It is Bumrah who first successfully transplanted his skills from the shorter formats to the Test arena and paved the way for the likes of Siraj. “We spoke about it in the change room. The fact that Bumrah didn’t bowl much in the first innings (he turned his ankle) allowed SA to get 40 more runs. We had a lot of belief in our bowlers to get the job done,” said Kohli. “The bowling unit has had a big role to play in where India’s Test cricket is over the last 4-5 years. Just the way these guys bowl together has been a hallmark of our team in difficult situations,” he said.
And then there is Shami, according to Kohli “among the top three bowlers in the world”. When he is at his peak, it is impossible to quantify Shami. “For me he’s in the best three seamers in the world at the moment,” said Kohli. “His strong wrist, his seam position and his ability to hit a length consistently… he’s absolutely world class.” Shami, having dropped Elgar earlier off his own bowling, made amends by getting Mulder and Jansen with that invaluable seam position and late movement.
Moments earlier, Siraj, the face of the future, had got de Kock chopping on to his stumps for the second time in this game, and though Temba Bavuma (35 not out; 80 balls; 4×4) hung on grimly, it wasn’t enough. Ironically, it was Ashwin who chipped in with the last few wickets as SA folded for 191 chasing 305.
That India could win easily in spite of a whole day’s washout is something they will cherish. In the context of the game and the helpful nature of the surface, KL Rahul‘s first-innings century proved the clincher, as Dean Elgar admitted. Here again, though, it was the difference between the two pace attacks that came to the fore. India’s pacers ensured SA were bowled out for under 200, in each innings, for only the third time since their readmission in international cricket. Rabada, Ngidi and Mulder, meanwhile, were inconsistent on that first morning and guilty of not making the batsmen play enough on a still tepid surface.
Just like he had at Lord’s earlier, Rahul didn’t need a second invitation, playing a stellar part in India capping off one of their most memorable years in the Test arena.
Now if only they could have wrested the WTC crown!