back icon


Hide your fortress, this Indian team loves breaking new grounds

Last updated on 30 Dec 2021 | 01:41 PM
Google News IconFollow Us
Hide your fortress, this Indian team loves breaking new grounds

In Centurion, the Kohli-led Indian side owned the ‘favourites’ tag and decimated the hosts

Today, India became the second-ever team in 20 years to win a Test in Centurion. They did not simply breach a fortress but wrecked it in militaristic fashion. And yet not a single soul is surprised. 

That should tell you everything about how far this team has come. 

An Asian Team coming to South Africa and pummeling the host nation to submission in the first Test of the series is almost unheard of. Yet India’s 113-run win in Centurion is viewed less as an ‘achievement’ and more as ‘just another day at the office’.

After what has unfolded across these past five days, you would have to be living in serious denial to not acknowledge this bunch as the greatest Indian Test unit in the country’s history. 

Almost fittingly, 2021, for India, ended the same way it started: with them breaching a fortress. The calendar year came full circle when Ashwin dismissed Ngidi to ensure India pocketed yet another fortress. 

But the similarities end there. This victory at Supersport Park was nothing like the Gabba win. India weren’t the underdogs who were up against the odds, nor did nobody give them a chance of registering a win. 

Here, despite the team never having won a Test series in South Africa, India were firm favorites heading into the first Test. 

And across the five days, they played like a champion side that owned the ‘favorites’ tag. 

Admittedly, they were up against arguably the weakest South African side they’ve probably ever encountered. Unlike 2018 the Proteas had no de Villiers or Philander to provide timely spark with bat and ball respectively, and more than half the side was filled with players who were still finding their feet at the Test level. 

Lack of gametime - South Africa hadn’t played a single Test since June - exacerbated the Proteas’ problems. 

Still, no match is ever won on paper. In alien conditions, India still had an uphill task at hand. How they aced the challenge across the five days symbolized what this team has turned into: an irresistible unit whose might and potency transcends conditions. 

Raging turners? They love it. Flat decks Down Under with plenty of bounce? They’ll out-bowl you. Overcast conditions with the Dukes hooping around? Cool. ‘Tough’ South African conditions? Not tough enough.

Do we even need to reveal the “obvious” secret? Duh, their bowling, of course. 

In the span of three years this unit has now out-bowled Australia in Australia, England in England and South Africa in South Africa. The ability of this bowling attack, led by Jasprit Bumrah, to instantaneously adapt to conditions is truly absurd. It is borderline illegal to be this good.

Think back to that third day. South Africa had all the momentum having taken the last 7 Indian wickets for 50-odd runs, and the wicket was far from unplayable. Markram, Elgar and Van der Dussen are not world-beaters, but at any given time they would fancy their chances of getting to a par score at home. 327 was perhaps slightly above par, but South Africa were well and truly in the game. 

In the blink of an eye, though, the entire top-order had been ripped out. Remarkably, by stumps, India were batting again. 62 overs of relentlessness. 

Dean Elgar, post the game, claimed that it was the batting that let the team down but what we also witnessed in Centurion was the gulf between the two sides’ bowling. 

The kind of indiscipline the South African seamers showcased on the first day, you would never ever see a performance of that kind from this Indian unit. And that is one of the primary reasons why they’ve been so successful overseas in the past four years. 

Conversely, Kohli’s post-match claim of Mohammed Shami being ‘among the top three seamers in the world’ was spot on. The commentators, on air during the first Test, were drawing comparisons between Shami and Vernon Philander, and during the course of the match, Shami exuded that aura Philander always did in home Tests. There was a sense of inevitability about him taking a wicket every time he had the ball in his hand.

Down the line this Shami spell might get buried due to the victory not being gladiatorial or the game being dramatic, but, make no mistake, his showing in Centurion was right out of the top drawer. There have not been too many better performances by overseas seamers in South Africa in the years gone by. 

If in Kohli’s mind, Shami is top three, it must only be because he feels Bumrah is top two. The Indian skipper did not say that out loud, but the talisman’s performance spoke for itself. 

100 overseas wickets, it won’t even be an overstatement to claim that Bumrah walks into India’s all-time Test XI. Who else, since Kapil Dev, has remotely even had the kind of impact and influence he’s currently having, that too away from home? 

In Centurion Bumrah proved that he and Pat Cummins are truly in a league of their own when it comes to Test bowling. Rabada picked three more wickets than Bumrah in the Test, but it was clear as day that he is at least a level, if not two, below his Indian counterpart, despite boasting sizzling numbers in the longest format. 

Throw in Mohammed Siraj, the 11-Test-old newbie with the skill and nous of a veteran, into the mix, and batting sides are fretting thinking how on earth they are supposed to score runs. 

All of Siraj’s three wickets in the Test were worth its weight in gold, and he deserved more scalps than just the three. He has now well and truly usurped Ishant Sharma as the third seamer in the pecking order. 

The only thing that can stop India from comprehensively winning this series, then, is their batting. Barring KL Rahul’s flawless outing with the bat in the first innings, there was no clear indication that, on current form, they are ‘far superior' to their South African counterparts. 

Though Rahane showed promise, the middle-order continues to be unreliable, and Mayank Agarwal still has a lot to prove. He played plenty of false strokes across the 137 balls he faced in the Test. There was also a ghastly collapse in the first innings that was followed by an unconvincing outing in the second.

With Duanne Olivier reportedly set to return for the second Test, batting will only get more difficult. It would truly be catastrophic for an encore of Leeds or Adelaide to happen, and the first Test did warn us that such a calamity cannot be ruled out. 

Even if a Leeds or Adelaide is to happen in the second Test in Johannesburg, though, you would thoroughly back this Indian unit to bounce back and seal the series in Cape Town.

And that, precisely, is what makes them one of the great sides in Test history.  

Related Article