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Tour and tournament reports

South Africa vs India 2021-22

A review of South Africa vs India in 2021-22

Neil Manthorp
Marco Jansen takes a close look at the ball  •  AFP via Getty Images

Marco Jansen takes a close look at the ball  •  AFP via Getty Images

Test matches (3): South Africa 2 (24pts), India 1 (11pts) One-day internationals (3): South Africa 3, India 0
This tour was delayed by a week while the effects of the Omicron variant were assessed, but the BCCI's decision to go ahead was received with extreme gratitude by Cricket South Africa, who feared financial ruin had the trip been cancelled. And CSA were further delighted by an exciting, low-scoring Test series, which the home side came from behind to win 2-1. It was the first time a series of three or more Tests had been won by a team that never reached 250.
Virat Kohli had made no secret of his desire to become the first Indian captain to win a Test series in South Africa. It started well enough, with a 113- run victory, but he was forced to sit out the Second Test because of a back spasm and, after his side slipped to a pair of seven-wicket defeats, he gave up the captaincy. He had already handed over the T20 leadership, after which the board stripped him of the ODI job too.
Neither side were at full strength. India were missing Rohit Sharma, their prolific opener (and new one-day captain), as well as the influential all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja. Both were injured, as was South Africa's fastest and most potent bowler, Anrich Nortje. The hosts also had to deal with the sudden retirement of Quinton de Kock - their wicketkeeper and best batsman - who caused a seismic shock by calling a halt to his Test career after the defeat at Centurion. Two weeks after his 29th birthday, de Kock said he wanted to spend more time with his family; his first child was born during the Second Test, for which he had already been granted paternity leave.
Another under immense pressure was South Africa's head coach, Mark Boucher. Between the Test and one-day series, CSA announced their intention to charge him with gross misconduct for "racist and/or subliminally racist behaviour" as a player 20 years earlier, and for his recent handling of the team, especially their initial inability to display a united stance in their support for the anti-racism movement. The seven-page rap sheet was leaked to the media between the second and third one-dayers, which rattled the players and made the subsequent series win all the more impressive. Boucher replied with a single paragraph, expressing his intention to defend himself against all the allegations.
India started as most had predicted - the only previous visitors to win an uncontrived Test at Centurion had been Australia. But then, unexpectedly, India lost the remaining five matches of the tour. If their Test batting was disappointing, South Africa's seamers were superb. Kagiso Rabada was fortunate his 41 no-balls were not more costly, but he led the attack well, and delivered 20 wickets at 19 apiece. Lungi Ngidi was just as lethal, with 15 at 15.
But it was Marco Jansen's 19 wickets at 16 in his debut series which took everyone by surprise. A 6ft 9in left-arm seamer aged 21, he was thought to be in the Covid-enlarged squad purely as back-up, and his selection for the First Test caught many on the hop. After that, it was the batsmen who were hopping: apart from a nervous first spell, Jansen looked entirely comfortable, bowling with pace and, thanks to his lanky frame, conjuring bounce from awkward angles. He can bat, too, and could be a banker for South Africa for years to come. His arrival overshadowed the return of Duanne Olivier, his Kolpak days behind him.
Another discovery was Keegan Petersen who, at 28, was less of an overnight sensation. Solid and compact in defence, with a sweet cover-drive and simple, effective punches off the back foot, he made 62, 72 and 82 in the final two Tests, and finished as the series' leading scorer. Dean Elgar, the Test captain, who supervised a tricky chase to make it 1-1 at Johannesburg, and one-day skipper Temba Bavuma also got their heads down.
Equally unexpected was the decisive factor in South Africa's one-day success: spin. Not only did they play it with more skill than India, they bowled it better as well. Slow left-armer Keshav Maharaj dismissed Kohli twice, and went for a tick above 4.5 an over; Tabraiz Shamsi took four wickets in his two games, and even part-time off-spinner Aiden Markram sent down 17 overs at an economy-rate of just five. Meanwhile, India's vaunted spinners struggled. Ravichandran Ashwin took one for 121 in his two outings, while leggie Yuzvendra Chahal nursed figures of two for 147 in 29 overs.