Mohali Test Match: Jadeja leads spin demolition of South Africa

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November 7, 2015

Brief Scorecard: India 201 (Vijay 75, Elgar 4-22) and 200 (Pujara 77, Tahir 4-48, Harmer 4-61) beat South Africa 184 and 109 (Jadeja 5-21) by 108 runs

Ravindra Jadeja picked up five wickets to help India notch up a 108-run win over South Africa in the opening Test. © BCCI

November 7, 2015

Brief Scorecard: India 201 (Vijay 75, Elgar 4-22) and 200 (Pujara 77, Tahir 4-48, Harmer 4-61) beat South Africa 184 and 109 (Jadeja 5-21) by 108 runs

Ravindra Jadeja picked up five wickets to help India notch up a 108-run win over South Africa in the opening Test. © BCCI

MOHALI, PUNJAB – From well before the start of the first Test, South Africa had allowed the gremlins to gnaw at their innards. They made no secret of their deep-seated suspicion of the playing surface at the PCA Stadium, tacitly and overtly slamming the spin-friendly pitch obviously designed to suit India’s strengths.

If South Africa are honest to themselves, they will acknowledge that it wasn’t so much the demons in the pitch as those in their mind that hastened their capitulation on an eventful Saturday (November 7), the scheduled third day of the Test that eventually doubled up as the final day.

Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer, their own spin twins, had once again exposed India’s fallibility against the turning ball by orchestrating a spectacular second-hour collapse that saw India go from 161 for 2 to 185 for 8 in next to no time. India lost their last eight wickets for a mere 39 runs in 119 deliveries to be bowled out for 200 which, allied with their 17-run first-innings advantage, necessitated South Africa to score 218 – the highest total of the game – for an unlikely 1-0 lead in the four-match series.

South Africa’s designs of making a match of it lay buried in a pile of self-doubt less than 40 minutes and 10 overs into their chase, by which time the accomplished trio of Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers had been cleaned by up R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra respectively. Not one of those dismissals owed itself to the vagaries of the pitch; instead, each of them was triggered by a singular and preconceived distrust of the playing surface that was far from ideal, but equally – or perhaps even more so – far from diabolical or unplayable.

India’s final margin of victory, a princely 108 runs after South Africa were dismissed in the final hour of the day for 109, was almost inconsequential given that the game had long since stopped being a contest. Stiaan van Zyl, pushed down to No. 6, and Harmer resisted for 42 minutes in adding 42 for the seventh wicket, during which period they again showed that while this surface demanded careful watching, it wasn’t impossible to survive on. Had the top order shown a little more spunk and a little less mental panic, this could yet have been a closer match.

Unsurprisingly, Jadeja was the wrecker in chief in the second innings, his ability to maintain disciplines and mix up his pace the ideal ingredients on a track of this nature. A third five-for in Test cricket was the perfect way to cap his return to Test cricket after nearly 15 months, and during the course of his 5 for 21, he also reached the mini milestone of 50 Test wickets. Ashwin was ideal foil as he finished with match figures of 8 for 90 and while Mishra only took one wicket, it was the massive one of de Villiers. In all, the spinners took 19 of the 20 South African wickets to fall to help Virat Kohli to a comprehensive victory in his home debut as Test captain.

South Africa were on a high as they began their quest for their highest successful fourth-innings chase in Asia. Tahir and Harmer had provided them with rip-roaring momentum by running rings around India’s batsmen who must stop believing post-haste that their problems against the turning ball are grossly exaggerated. As such, even though 218 was a massive ask under the circumstances, they were at least full of positive energy.

Thinking out of the box, they sent Vernon Philander out to kick-start their chase alongside Dean Elgar – regular opener van Zyl dropped down the order – in the first indication that they felt the need to do something different to thwart India’s spin threat. The Philander misadventure lasted all of two deliveries before Jadeja pinged him palpably in front in the second over of the innings. Du Plessis departed next, beautifully set up by Ashwin who darted across to round the stumps and got the ball to hold its line, the outside edge nestling in Ajinkya Rahane’s hands at slip.

The next over produced another massive blow. For some reason that only Amla can explain, the South African captain – him of sound judgement and soft hands – chose to offer no stroke to a somewhat round-armish offering from Jadeja from the round the stumps. Having offered free passage to the ball, Amla looked on in horror as it rattled middle pole – it wasn’t headed anywhere else from the time it left the bowler’s left hand – and in 3.5 overs, South Africa were in tatters at 10 for 3.

De Villiers walked out to a warm reception from the biggest crowd of the match and immediately began to use his feet to get to the pitch of the ball when, without warning, he played back to Mishra for no discernible reason. The feet in a tangle and the bat at an odd angle as he jabbed down, all he managed was an inside-edge on to his stumps off his pad. Mishra celebrated with gusto, having cleaned up de Villiers for the second time in the match; the team swooped down on the leggie, aware that while the end wasn’t yet nigh, most of the hard work had been done.

Like he had in the first innings, Elgar battled on for a little more than an hour, all obdurate defence until the first sign of pace in the 17th over seemed to stoke his attacking instincts. Varun Aaron got one to bounce a little more, Elgar was caught in no-man’s land trying to work the ball to leg, and the leading edge lobbed to mid-on. Halfway there.

The rest was routine business once the prickly van Zyl-Harmer stand was broken, Jadeja signaling victory with his fifth wicket by pinging Tahir bang in front.

The victory might temporarily mask India’s batting in the morning, but clearly, there is plenty of technical and mental work ahead of the batting group and the think-tank. As they kicked on from 125 for 2 with the game far from secured, the onus was on Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli to extend India’s advantage as far as possible. For the first hour, they did so with aplomb. There was a bit of reverse for Philander and Kagiso Rabada, handled with no great discomfort, and even when Harmer was brought on, they moved on untroubled.

Kohli took 17 deliveries to advance from his overnight 11, but then came into his own with a trio of boundaries as India saw off the first hour for the addition of 36 runs. Then, in the first over upon resumption, Kohli threw his hand away. A loose stroke outside off against the part-time medium pace of van Zyl put Dane Vilas in business behind the sticks to end a stand of 66. India were still in control at 161 for 3, but no one was prepared for the mayhem that was to follow.

Amla wasted little time in summoning Tahir immediately on Kohli’s departure, and the leggie obliged with his first ball, Pujara’s near four-hour vigil ended by a perfect legbreak that spun away, caught the edge and landed in Amla’s hands at slip. Rahane perished in the next over to Harmer, caught smartly by Temba Bavuma as he played with his bat well in front of his pad and the face closed. India lost three for 3 in 17 deliveries, the middle-order core plucked out, and it was left to the lower order to add to the lead of 181.

They didn’t manage that significantly, uncertain in defence and hesitant in stroke-play as the South African spinners grew in stature. Allowed to bowl at their terms, Harmer and Tahir both looked extremely dangerous, a wicket appeared imminent and then another one. They all came in rapid succession as the offie and the leggie carved their way through the lower order. It was a sorry procession but even as it unfolded, all it did was illustrate the magnitude of the task that lay in front of South Africa. India knew that even as the wickets were tumbling, South Africa knew that even as they were celebrating.


Courtesy: Wisden India