CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA // After the defiance of day four, there was no escape for India on the final day at SuperSport Park, with South Africa wrapping up an innings and 25-run victory 26 minutes into the opening session.
Only 35 deliveries were needed to see the back of Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Jaidev Unadkat, leaving Sachin Tendulkar unconquered on 111.
Storms had forced the players off early on Sunday evening, but there were only blue skies above at 10am yesterday morning.
With no reprieve from the weather, India needed Tendulkar to score as well and shepherd the two pace bowlers in order to make South Africa bat again.
That never happened. When a single was on offer, Tendulkar took it, leaving Sreesanth to face both Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Sreesanth had added 105 with Harbhajan Singh in Hyderabad a month ago, but the best pace duo in the world offered a far greater challenge than New Zealand’s bowling attack had.
Morkel was the one who broke through, getting Sreesanth to prod at a ball just outside off stump. AB de Villiers took the catch at third slip.
Unadkat, who will surely make way for the fit-again Zaheer Khan for the second Test in Durban which starts on Sunday, survived nine deliveries before Steyn summoned up a nasty bouncer that he could only fend to gully.
Tendulkar turned away, took off his gloves and shook hands with Steve Davis, the umpire, before walking off to a great ovation.
MS Dhoni, the Indian captain whose stroke-filled 90 had been integral to his team’s late fightback, cracked some jokes at the press conference afterwards, but there was no disguising his disappointment at how India had surrendered over the first two days.
The batsmen redeemed themselves in the second innings after being bowled out for 136 in their first innings, but there will surely be additional net sessions for a bowling line-up that was abysmal once the pitch eased.
“We couldn’t get them all out,” Dhoni said. “The wicket was different to that on the first day, but we’ve bowled on flatter tracks and expected to get sides out. “That’s an area of concern because to win a Test you have to get 20 wickets.”
The concern was evident in the manner that India were straight back at work after the press conference. Zaheer bowled quite a few deliveries to Murali Vijay, one of the contenders to replace the out-of-form Suresh Raina, and Eric Simons, the bowling coach, also supervised Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma, neither of whom came close to matching South Africa’s new-ball pairing.
“You’re supposed to either take wickets or not let the opposition score at five runs an over in a Test match,” Dhoni said in a candid assessment of the bowling display. “Of course the conditions are not like in India where it turns and the ball doesn’t come on. It’s harder to tie the batsmen down and not let them score at a brisk pace.”
Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, reflected on a “dominant performance” and refused to accept that the toss had been a big factor. “I don’t think the wicket did that much,” he said in reference to India struggling on the first day after being put in when the weather was overcast. “I just think they were very tentative. They were caught on the back foot quite a lot.”
Jacques Kallis, the man of the match after his maiden double-hundred and two wickets, said that it was “especially pleasing” to beat the No 1 ranked side in the world, and looked forward to Durban, which has the reputation for providing the bounciest pitches in South Africa.
Recent history gives India some hope though. South Africa’s last two games at Kingsmead both ended in heavy defeats, by 175 runs to Australia in March 2009 and an innings and 98 runs to England last December.
The visiting fast bowlers did the damage on both occasions, and India can only hope that the return of Zaheer coincides with a dramatic upswing in their fortunes.