Indian captain Virat Kohli in action in the third cricket Test against South Africa at Newlands stadium in Cape Town on January 12, 2022. Kohli produced a string of good performances in the series. Image Credit: AFP

A Test series win in South Africa remains elusive for India. The 2-1 loss for Virat Kohli’s side is tough since this is perhaps the closest India had come to upstaging the Proteas. It’s more painful considering India’s dominance in all three Tests. So what went wrong?

Captain Kohli referred to the fragility of batting but refused to point fingers at specific players. He didn’t have to tell us since the scoreboard bears out the performances. True, the Tests were low-scoring affairs as batting was difficult on the pace-friendly wickets. The high quality South African attack didn’t make scoring easy either.

But runs on the board matter. India’s loss in the second and third Tests stems from the lack of runs on the board. In contrast, the South African wins came on the back of some sterling batting.

India’s Rishabh Pant hits a six on the third day of the third cricket Test against South Africa at Newlands stadium in Cape Town on January 13, 2022. He scored 100 out of India’s second innings total of 198. Image Credit: AFP

Barring the first Test, which India won, the first wicket partnership was not good enough. That’s a problem when the middle-order is not performing well enough. Much of the blame should go to Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. There were half-centuries in the second innings of the second Test, but little else.

KL Rahul came good in the first two Tests, Kohli held the innings together with several knocks of character and class, and Rishabh Pant’s genius was seen only in one innings. Pujara looked assured at times, but Rahane’s quiet confidence was missing.

The class of Pujara and Rahane is unmistakable. The two veterans occupy crucial slots in the batting order. We cannot forget their brilliant displays of the past, but they are not delivering now. And that’s a problem. It was one of the main causes of India’s failure in South Africa. Because, if India had set stiffer targets to chase, the sheer pressure would have helped the bowlers bowl out the South Africans.

Besides the batting, India’s inability to bowl out the opposition in the second innings is worrying. Dean Elgar’s South Africa is not a strong batting side, and India have a high-quality attack. Their incisiveness was blunted in the second and third Tests.

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Injuries to Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj robbed the attack of some edge. Umesh Yadav is certainly not a matchwinner, which showed in the final Test. India didn’t have imposing targets to turn up the heat in the fourth innings, but what’s also clear is the lack of matchwinning performances. They were out of luck too. A breakthrough at crucial junctures would have made a difference.

Shardul Thakur’s strong showing helped win the first Test; Shami looked good throughout the series. And Jasprit Bumrah hauled India into contention in the third Test. But that was not good enough in the face of some gutsy batting from Elgar and Keegan Petersen.

Batting, that was the difference in a series dominated by fast bowlers.

A 2-1 loss may hurt, but India did play some good cricket. South Africa may continue to be the final frontier for India, but the lessons from the series will be invaluable in shaping the future of Indian cricket.

The future lies in the hands of the young and talented.