Cape Town: Eighteen wickets fell in a day as South Africa beat India in the first of three battles between Test cricket’s two leading teams at Newlands on Monday with both captains hailing the pitch’s contribution to the batting carnage.
“The pitch was outstanding,” said Indian captain Virat Kohli after South Africa won the first Test by 72 runs with a day to spare.
“It was great for Test cricket. Both teams were in the game at different stages. As a team we really enjoyed being part of this Test match.”
“This was as good as it gets in Test cricket,” said South African captain Faf du Plessis.
“It was fantastic to be part of it. It definitely ranks as one of my favourite Test matches.”
India were bowled out for 135 after being set to make 208 to win. Man of the match Vernon Philander led the South African attack, which was missing the injured Dale Steyn, taking six for 42.
India had earlier bowled South Africa out for 130 in their second innings. Eighteen wickets fell during the day while 200 runs were scored on a pitch which had plenty of life after being under covers for all of the third day, which was rained off.
Kohli was disappointed with the batting of his number one-ranked team – but felt they had shown they could compete with their nearest challengers in pace-friendly conditions.
He said India were looking forward to taking the South Africans head-on in the second Test starting at Centurion on Saturday.
“We needed someone to go out there and score 75 or 80 and we need to sit down and talk about stringing together partnerships. You can’t afford to lose three or four wickets quickly as we did today.”
Kohli gave credit to South Africa’s pace bowling attack.
“Their bowlers create relentless pressure. They force you to play good cricket in every over.”
The Indian captain suggested the Indian batsmen might need to show more of the aggressive intent epitomised by Hardik Pandya, who hit 93 off 95 balls in the first innings.
“Hardik showed a lot of character. We need to make their bowlers come back for second or third spells.”
Du Plessis admitted that he was nervous about defending a low target after South Africa lost their last eight wickets for 65 runs before lunch.
“The new ball was crucial but I knew that we have got fantastic seam bowlers.”
The South African captain said that losing Steyn, who has been ruled out of the rest of the series with a left heel injury, was a big blow.
But he praised the character of the injured bowler, who came out to bat with nine wickets down in an effort to shepherd top-scorer AB de Villiers to a bigger score.
“We didn’t want Dale to bat unless AB was still there because we didn’t want him to make his injury worse. But he wanted to do it,” said Du Plessis.
With Steyn unable to run, De Villiers needed to hit boundaries. Kohli placed eight fielders on the boundary and one of them caught De Villiers without adding to his 35 runs. “We didn’t get the runs but it was the mindset that counts,” said Du Plessis.
It was a match that was full of drama from the first morning when South Africa crashed to 12 for three after choosing to bat on a seaming pitch.
“We’re a team that is prepared to take risk to try to win matches,” said Du Plessis. “We knew the pitch would speed up. We were surprised how quick it was on the first day but today was very difficult for batsmen.”
Counter-attacking batting by De Villiers and Du Plessis enabled South Africa to make a competitive 286, leading Kohli to regret that India had not taken their chances to bowl them out for a lower total.
But he said the bowlers had rectified their mistakes in the second innings, giving him confidence that they could push South Africa hard at Centurion.
“We need the batsmen to apply themselves and show more character. But if we get a lively wicket our bowlers can exploit their batting again.”