India 502 for 7 dec (Agarwal 215, Rohit 176, Maharaj 3-189) and 323 for 4 dec (Rohit 127, Pujara 81, Jadeja 40, Maharaj 2-129) beat South Africa 431 (Elgar 160, de Kock 111, du Plessis 55, Ashwin 7-145, Jadeja 2-124) and 191 (Piedt 56, Muthusamy 49*, Shami 5-35, Jadeja 4-87) by 203 runs
India shot through South Africa on the final day, taking seven wickets in the first session before going on to win by 203 runs, their third consecutive Test win by a margin of greater than 200 runs, all of them coming in the World Test Championship, which they now lead with 160 points from three games. Mohammed Shami was central to the collapse, accounting for Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock – Nos. 4, 5 and 6 – to open up the lower order, who were softened by Ravindra Jadeja before Shami returned to take the last two wickets.
A 91-run stand between Senuran Muthusamy and Dane Piedt kept India out longer than they would have expected when they reduced South Africa to 70 for 8, but the pair’s efforts were not enough to undo the damage.
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South Africa began the day with a potential 98 overs to play out, through which they’d have to score at nearly four an over if they harboured thoughts of a win. And they had nine wickets in the bag. In the spirit of positivity that helped them put up 431 in the first innings, they got seven off the first over the day, with Theunis de Bruyn picking up a boundary against Shami. In the next over, that approach – and a waft outside off similar to the one that caused his first-innings dismissal – turned a relatively innocuous R Ashwin delivery into a wicket-taking one. It stayed low and this time the inside edge went on to the stumps. It was Ashwin’s 350th Test wicket, and came shortly after Aiden Markram had been put down by wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
The third wicket also came from a ball that stayed low, in the very next over, Shami sneaking a length ball under Bavuma’s defences and making him tumble on to the floor. Markram delighted with stylish boundaries through the off side and straight down the ground, and du Plessis looked comfortable again. But that was until he shouldered arms to an incoming delivery from Shami. To be fair to du Plessis, the ball had started well outside off stump. But Shami got it to nip back a long way and, with marginal help from a crack in the pitch, hit the top of an exposed off stump.
India barely had to break a sweat or rely on cunning strategy for the next few wickets. Shami got another one to come back in, this time to Quinton de Kock, who was rooted to the crease as he looked to push through the off side with the angle.
With only the allrounders and lower order to come, at 60 for 5, Markram let loose, using his feet nicely and looking more compact in defence, having been bowled through the gate in the first innings. His preferred route was to loft the spinners, and that brought him two boundaries and a six over long-on. He was left open-mouthed soon enough, however, trying to drive Jadeja over his head only for the bowler to stick his left-hand up and time his jump to perfection to hold on to it. By the end of that over, Jadeja spun the ball past two batsmen’s leading edges, trapped them lbw in front of middle, nearly took a hat-trick, and left the visitors on 70 for 8.
Then came the stand between Muthusamy and Piedt, which kept India on the field well past the 15-minute extension to the first session. In fact, they lasted well past the opening of the second session too, as Piedt’s crisp, clean driving down the ground put India on the defensive. At many points, as Piedt and Muthusamy casually drove India’s spinners through the line, Kohli had two or three fielders out on the boundary. Muthusamy was as resolute as Piedt was free-flowing, scoring at a strike rate in the 30s while Piedt used the extra pace of Jadeja to notch up some goodness in an otherwise difficult Test for him. His six, a swat over midwicket, was the 36th of the match, a new record for Test cricket.
Driving through the line did end up costing him in the end, when Shami returned and found some late swing in the corridor to take the inside edge on to the stumps. There was some more frustration for India – Rabada had a few successful swings against Jadeja too, and Muthusamy’s outside edge drew him closer to the fifty on debut that he eventually did not reach, having run out of partners.
That said, India’s frustration perhaps couldn’t compare to that felt by South Africa’s frontline batsmen, who had to sit through yet another period where batting suddenly seemed to become easier once they had left.