x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

South Africa draw first blood

MS Dhoni admits to being outplayed as the Proteas win the opening Test by an innings and six runs and hand India their first defeat on home soil in almost two years.

The South African players celebrate and enjoy the rewards of a job well done. Hashim Amla (bearded), centre, was named man of the match.
The South African players celebrate and enjoy the rewards of a job well done. Hashim Amla (bearded), centre, was named man of the match.

MS Dhoni used the word "outplayed" to describe India's innings and six-run defeat to South Africa in Nagpur yesterday. He could have added outthought and outclassed to that line. The Test match, which was being billed as the "top-of-the-table clash", could never match the hype as India - ranked No 1 in the longest version of the game - suffered their third innings defeat at home in 10 years, all three to the same opposition. On a turning track, the two Indian spinners could get just one wicket in 99 overs between them. On the other side, however, Paul Harris, the left-arm spinner - alternatively described as a "pie chucker" - had four victims in the game, including the prized wickets of Murali Vijay, Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni, the India captain, in the second innings. The India batting was a letdown as well. Aside from the centuries by Virender Sehwag in the first innings and Tendulkar yesterday, the aggregate of the other six specialists would struggle to match Jacques Kallis's score of 173, let alone Hashim Amla's magnificent, unbeaten 253.

In the first innings, replying to South Africa's mammoth 558 for six declared, six of India's seven specialist batsmen could contribute just 95 runs. Following on 325 runs behind, Tendulkar waged a long battle, scoring his 46th Test century; the other six batsmen could make only 116 between them. "There is no doubt we were completely outplayed in this game," said Dhoni. "The surface was best to bat on the first day and Kallis and Amla batted really well. "And then there was Dale Steyn's performance. I think it was one of the best performances of pace bowling I've seen in the last two years, at least as far as conventional swing bowling goes." Dhoni was referring to fast bowler Steyn's incredible spell of reverse-swing after the tea break on day three. He took five wickets for just one run in 3.4 overs as India lost their last six wickets for 12 to be dismissed for 233 in the first innings. The paceman had seven for 51 in that innings and a match haul of 10 for 108.

"Everything happened so quickly, even for us," said Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, referring to Steyn's burst. "It was terrific to watch and it's great to have guys of that calibre in your line-up who can just run in and make a big difference in the game. There were some great individual performances which deserve accolades. Jacques and Hashim with the bat and Dale with the ball, but I think it was a great team effort. "It's been an outstanding performance from the guys, four days of clinical stuff. To win here requires a lot of discipline and hard work and the guys showed a lot of consistency. "It's been a pretty tough, emotional two weeks for us with all the changes [Mickey Arthur, their coach, quitting] and stuff, but credit should go to the players for the maturity they have shown."

India will now have to win the next match in Kolkata, starting on Sunday, or they will surrender the No 1 ranking to the South Africans. "We are on the back foot now, no doubt," said Dhoni. "They can't lose the series now. So, we are under the pressure, but we are always are under pressure." The selectors yesterday moved to strengthen their batting for the final Test, bringing in one-day specialist Suresh Raina and recalling Dinesh Karthik, the wicketkeeper. Karthik got his recall on the back of twin centuries in a recent domestic first-class final. VVS Laxman is expected to recover after missing the opening Test with an injury. Wriddhiman Saha and seamers Abhimanyu Mithun and Sudeep Tyagi have been dropped, with Santhakumaran Sreesanth returning. arizvi@thenational.ae

South Africa 558 declared India 233 & (overnight 66-2): Gautam Gambhir b Morkel 1 Virender Sehwag c Smith b Steyn 16 Murali Vijay c Morkel b Harris 32 Sachin Tendulkar b Harris 100 Subramaniam Badrinath c Boucher b Parnell 6 Mahendra Dhoni c de Villiers b Harris 25 Wriddhiman Saha not out 4 Harbhajan Singh not out 11 Extras: (14b, 6lb 6w 2nb) 28 Total: (for six wickets) 223 Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-24, 3-96, 4-122, 5-192, 6-209, 7-259, 8-318, 9-318. Bowling: Steyn 18.1-1-57-3 Morkel 21-6-65-1 (1nb, 6w) Parnell 13-2-58-2 Harris 38-17-76-3 Kallis 12-3-19-1 Duminy 5-0-21-0 (1nb)