India should rue fatal first day

If a face told you the story of India’s Test, it was Hardik Pandya’s. When he sprung up after getting hit in the midriff while batting in the first innings, he was defiant even though in pain. When in the field, he was all enthusiasm, telling his “bhai log” [brothers] to finish it off before lunch. When he had ball in hand, he was full of hope every ball. Even when they sent him to deep midwicket, he kept shouting to Mohammed Shami at fine leg.

When the camera panned to the India viewing area late on the fourth afternoon, though, it captured heart-breaking pictures of Pandya, sitting for the first time perhaps without any animation on his face. He was crestfallen, almost too shocked at India’s fourth-innings collapse to react. The dream was already over. India had lost six or seven cheap wickets. The look on that face was not just of disappointment; it was of having come close, having smelled it.

In his mind, playing outside Asia for the first time, Pandya had done enough to give India a fighting chance at a most glorious Test win. There was real hope as India walked off for lunch, having bowled excellently on the fourth morning, taking the eight remaining South African wickets for 65. There were about two bad balls in the whole session, and even they conceded only one run thanks to good fielding. The bowlers showed tremendous improvement from their first-innings effort when the seamers apart from Bhuvneshwar Kumar were off their mark.

“We rectified the errors we made in the first innings by letting them off after having them 12 for 3,” a disappointed Virat Kohli said after the Test. “We plugged that gap pretty nicely in the morning today. Getting them out, 208 felt chaseable, felt very realistic, but again we needed someone to go out there and get 75 or 80 and not 20-25-30 runs. We wanted one big partnership to get the job done, which we failed to do, and again we lost four wickets in four overs.”