At Mohali, November 5-7, 2015. India won by 108 runs. Toss: India. Test debut: K. Rabada.
India won through a masterful display of spin by Ashwin, who opened the bowling in both innings and returned match figures of eight for 90. It was also a confident start for Kohli, whose first home Test as India's captain began when he won the toss on his 27th birthday. Who needs Bollywood when cricket does the job?
South Africa had effectively lost four days before a ball was even bowled, when du Plessis admitted: "We are expecting the worst; we are expecting the ball to spin on day one." It did - and on days two and three as well. And that was that: game over, in less time than the South Africans (whose previous three-day defeat had come seven years earlier, at Kanpur) had fretted about being beaten. Du Plessis managed nought and one. Kohli also got drawn into the pitch-bitching, but remained on the front foot. "Whenever we travel abroad there's never been any focus on the pitch," he said. "The focus has
always been how we are going to struggle against their bowlers, or how our bowlers are going to be hit around the park. So I don't really care what's been said or written."
But the words of India's team director Ravi Shastri to the Mumbai groundsman, after South Africa had clinched the one-day series on a surface that was more Wanderers than Wankhede, were crucial. Though a complaint of verbal abuse was laid against him - and later withdrawn - the message had been delivered. Mohali was not a dangerous pitch, but it did take batting and seam bowling out of the equation to a degree that could be considered unfair. Batsmen became butterflies awaiting the piercing of the pin.
"There were quite a few dismissals from both teams because of a lack of turn rather than an excess," said Amla. "Sometimes those are the more difficult pitches to play on." He and du Plessis, South Africa's most careful batsmen, proved that point by offering no stroke at - and being bowled by - deliveries that did not venture far off the straight. It was clear from the early exchanges that the team whose batsmen were less timid and clumsy would hold the advantage. And that team was India.
Little was pretty about their first innings, and even less about Elgar's left-arm spin. After winning the toss, India were bowled out for 201 an hour after tea, with Elgar - who had taken only six wickets in his previous 17 Tests - picking up four for 22. In an innings that produced three ducks and a mere single for Kohli, who drove the debutant fast bowler Kagiso Rabada to cover, Vijay alone looked like he knew what he was doing, with a flinty,
composed 75. Elgar didn't look like he knew what he was doing beyond going through the motions. But, given the pitch, that did not matter. He celebrated his successes with a downward glance.
By stumps, South Africa had slipped to 28 for two, and before tea next day they had been bowled out, 17 behind. That they managed to venture that close was because Elgar, Amla and de Villiers dug in for nearly seven hours between them. No one else made it into double figures, as the batsmen tried to shake off the shackles by playing strokes too big for the occasion. Predictably, they failed, allowing Ashwin to rip and roar his way to five for 51. Referring to his dismissal of Elgar, who ran out of grit and carved a carpenter's cut to backward point, Ashwin said: "I made a point of telling him it's not Johannesburg, unfortunately. I saw it coming, I knew he was going to play that shot."
Eighteen of the 22 wickets that had fallen by the close on the second day - with India, led by Pujara, 142 ahead - belonged to spinners, though Steyn had been ruled out of bowling in the second innings (and, it transpired, the rest of the series) because of a groin strain. Next day India lost their last eight for 39 inside 20 overs as leg-spinner Imran Tahir and off-spinner Harmer finished with four each, taking to 15 the number of wickets claimed by South Africa's slow bowlers - their most in a Test since 1952-53.
Even so, a target of 218 looked beyond them: among visiting sides only West Indies, at Delhi in 1987-88, had chased more to win a Test in India. Philander opened with Elgar, which was more of a surprise than a five-wicket haul for Jadeja's brisk left-arm spin, less flashy than Ashwin but more accurate. His match return of eight for 76 was a Test-best. South Africa's second defeat in 22 away Tests was confirmed an hour after tea, when
Tahir was smacked flush on the boot in front of off stump by Jadeja. Like many of his team-mates throughout the game, he knew little about the delivery.
Man of the Match: R. A. Jadeja.
Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa