CENTURION, South Africa — After nine straight series wins, eight of them in the comfort of sub-continent conditions, India again fell short on tour to lose the second test to South Africa by 135 runs Jan. 17.
With it, went another series away from home.
India, so often a batting juggernaut at home, was bowled out for 151 before lunch on the final day at Centurion in a defeat made more painful by the fact that the pitch at SuperSport Park on the South African high-veld was surprisingly more Indian than South African in character.
Even then, on a slow, grinding track — the kind India’s batsmen have extensive experience of — the top-ranked team in the world still couldn’t stand up to South Africa’s fast bowlers.
“We have not come here to play the way we have done,” said India captain Virat Kohli. “That is something that we need to definitely speak about. We need to be hard on ourselves. We need to ask ourselves if we are giving 120 percent for the team every time we bowl a ball or play a ball or field a ball. As a team we are definitely going to lay out these things in the open.”
On his test debut for South Africa, paceman Lungi Ngidi collected 6-39 in the second innings, the newcomer blasting through India’s top and middle order to seal the tourists’ fate, leaving Kohli’s magnificent 153 in the first innings a footnote in another tale of Indian struggle away from home.
South Africa leads the three-test series 2-0 with one more game to play in Johannesburg next week. India, the No. 1 team in tests by some way at the start of the series after a dominant run of form in Asia, faces a first whitewash in six years. That result that could demand serious self-examination for test cricket’s No. 1 team and the sport’s most closely scrutinized players.
“I’d favor being ruthless,” said South Africa captain Faf du Plessis when asked if the dead rubber at the Wanderers would present an opportunity to rest some of his players ahead of a four-test series against Australia in March.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to beat India 3-0 for a while. For me it’s about keeping your foot on the gas.”
Tellingly, maybe, and blurred by that recent run of success, India has succumbed to a sixth straight series loss in South Africa, Australia or England, showing the disparity between its form inside and outside Asia.