In the end, it took just over two hours in the morning. India had come out on Wednesday (January 17) on 35 for 3 after being set a target of 287 in the second Test. Victory was a distant thought, surviving the first hour and then the session were of more immediate concern at SuperSport Park. In an extended opening session to lunch, India were bowled out for 151 in 50.2 overs, of which just 27.2 were needed on the final morning.
Victory by 135 runs meant a 2-0 lead for South Africa and the series in the bag, with only a solitary Test remaining, at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Lungisani Ngidi, who had sent back Virat Kohli on Tuesday evening, made it a debut to remember, ending with superb figures of 6 for 39 in 12.2 overs. Ngidi ran in and bent his back, kept a channel that didn’t allow batsmen much leeway, and used his height and strength to generate pace and lift from the surface. His reward was sending a sparse home crowd into raptures.
While South Africa were basking in the glow of a well-earned and hard-fought series win, India will be left pondering the many slips that snatched the proverbial cup from their lips. The pattern of ill-conceived shots and ill-judged running between the wickets continued till the end.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Parthiv Patel, the overnight batsmen, came out looking to be positive. Not unnecessarily going into a shell was the right strategy, and both men gathered runs in a fairly brisk manner, 12 coming in the first three overs. That’s when India had their first moment of the day they will regret, dissect and probably cuss. Parthiv had steered the ball to third-man, and the batsmen decided three runs was on. Pujara, not the most fleet-footed between the wickets, scrambled back for the third and put in a dive, but couldn’t beat AB de Villiers’s pinpoint throw. It was the second time in the match that Pujara was run out, and he became the first Indian to earn that dubious distinction.
Three overs later, Parthiv attempted to hook a bouncer from Kagiso Rabada but the ball was too high for him to keep it down. And proving the adage that when the going’s good, everything goes right, Morne Morkel pulled off a stunning diving catch at fine-leg to send Parthiv on his way, and leave India 65 for 5.
Much depended on the partnership between Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, but Pandya was out for the second time in the match in a manner he won’t want to watch the replay of. Ngidi had been testing Pandya, and when he bowled a short one a bit wider, Pandya couldn’t resist having a go at it, trying to ramp it for four. He wasn’t in the perfect position to pull off the shot, and ended up chasing it, not connecting well enough, and Quinton de Kock leapt in the air to pluck the catch. At 83 for 6, even the hope of a miracle had disappeared from the Indian camp. That soon became 83 for 7 when Ngidi got R Ashwin caught behind with a ball that was moving away.
Rohit and Mohammed Shami then shared a 54-run stand that ensured the margin of defeat would be more respectable, and also showed the batsmen back in the dressing room that a little application was all that was needed to survive, even given South Africa’s overall bowling class. Rohit farmed the strike when he could, while Shami connected well, but it was always a matter of just one wicket. That came when Rohit pulled a short ball from Rabada to fine-leg, where de Villiers ran in swiftly, dived and plucked the ball inches from the ground. Rohit’s 47 was the highest score of the innings.
Ngidi got his fifth when Shami, reverting to tailender mode after Rohit’s wicket, could only mistime a slog to Morkel at mid-on, to go for 28. Fittingly enough, it was Ngidi who ended the match, getting Jasprit Bumrah caught at mid-off to spark grand celebrations in the South Africa camp, and likely introspection in the Indian one.