Match reports

India v South Africa, 2015-16

Wisden's review of the third Test, India v South Africa, 2015-16

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp
R Ashwin claimed 12 wickets in the Test to help the hosts beat South Africa  •  BCCI

R Ashwin claimed 12 wickets in the Test to help the hosts beat South Africa  •  BCCI

At Nagpur, November 25-27, 2015. India won by 124 runs. Toss: India.
A pitch which looked and behaved as though it had already hosted a week's play was a spinners' jackpot. Scores of 20 or 30 seemed to be worth double, and it was India's batsmen who were able to produce most of those. South Africa, on the other hand, appeared clueless: when they cascaded to 12 for five early on the second day, the contest was virtually over. Duminy's 35 from 65 balls was one of his most skilled innings, but even that swelled the total only to 79 - South Africa's lowest since 1956-57, when they made 72 against England at both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Vijay had made best use of the game's first hour, when South Africa used pace from both ends for the first 40 minutes before introducing Harmer's gentle off-spin. Vijay knew what was coming, and drove the seamers at every opportunity. Occasionally he was a little loose, but every run was precious. The openers put on 50 and, although India later slipped to 125 for six, Saha and Jadeja dug in. Saha was the beggar, taking anything on offer, pickpocketing singles and fighting for survival for 145 minutes and 32 runs. Jadeja chanced his arm, and smacked six fours in his 73-minute 34. It was already apparent to the South Africans that they were in trouble; body language betrayed their concern.
Every scoring opportunity felt as if it could affect the outcome of the match, and the South African bowlers provided too many. By contrast, Ashwin and Jadeja were so accurate that batsmen were limited to two or three shots - but into areas where there was an abundance of fielders, especially in the second innings, during which South Africa mostly abandoned thoughts of run-scoring in favour of survival and pride-salvation.
India's lead of 136 had given them control, and useful contributions from Dhawan and Pujara took the game emphatically beyond South Africa's reach. Imran Tahir celebrated his second-innings five-for in typically ebullient style with a kiss of the pitch, but the reality was different: it was relatively meaningless, as the advantage had stretched past 300. It was 218 before Amla even brought Tahir on, and his wickets came from catches in the deep and a slashed long-hop to backward point, while the unfortunate Saha bottomedged a cut which bounced to slip via the boot of wicketkeeper Vilas.
South Africa's first innings had lasted only 33.1 overs, but they made a mess of the argument that the pitch was unplayable by surviving almost 90 in their second, though scoring at little more than two an over. Not even the intoxicated or insane - never mind the merely optimistic - pretended there was any chance of overhauling the target of 310, despite three days in which to do it.
Amla batted with a suitable grimness, as did du Plessis, but Amla's captaincy betrayed the pressure he was under. In both innings he sent the hapless Tahir out as nightwatchman in his stead, and both times had to come out and face the final few deliveries anyway, as Tahir was quickly tossed aside by the spinners. Ashwin thrived on the extra workload which South Africa's second-innings application afforded him, enjoying the opportunity to set batsmen up with his enchanting carrom ball and top-spinner, instead of seeing them merely surrender to his off-breaks. He finished with a career-best seven for 66, the best by an Indian against South Africa. Also in their element were Jadeja and Mishra, whose leg-spin might have been third in the pecking order but would almost certainly have yielded equally impressive results had it been promoted.
Kohli's annoyance that a thumping victory and famous series win were put down to the pitch - which was later censured by the ICC - was understandable, but naive. Never mind the players: there were 40-year veterans of the Indian game who could not recall such a surface. But Kohli was right in one respect: he had been prepared to gamble, with the backing of his players, and achieved a resounding success. And the victory was down to the superior skills of his team, not the toss of a coin or the broken soil.
Man of the Match: R. Ashwin.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency