The first test of one of the most highly anticipated series in a long time definitely lived up to the hype. The two top ranked teams were very difficult to separate before the series began, and with a stacked batting and bowling line up, the match promised to be exciting.
The pitch was as expected- it had grass, and gave a lot of movement for the seam bowlers. India began very brightly with the ball and had South Africa 12-3 after just 5 overs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar showed why he is one of the best fast bowlers going around by getting rid of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla in his opening spell. This brought AB de Villiers to the crease in his first Test match since 2016, and there was some pressure on him to perform again given his long absence. During his innings however, it was like he’d never been away. With the pressure firmly on South Africa after the three early wickets, de Villiers counter attacked and put the pressure right back on the other foot. He ended up with 65 from just 84 deliveries before he was dismissed by a good ball from Jasprit Bumrah who claimed de Villiers as his first scalp in Test cricket. De Villiers was joined in his efforts by the skipper Faf du Plessis, who made 62 alongside his star batsman. South Africa were eventually all out for 286 in 73 overs, and many people were heaping praise on the Indian bowling performance and thought that India had put themselves in a great position to get ahead in the game.
When India did bat, it turned out that they struggled heavily with the ferocious South African bowling. For the first time, we saw the quartet of fast bowlers play together. Dale Steyn picked up his first test wicket since 2016 and looked unplayable before another injury cut his game and his series short. Morne Morkel picked up from where he left off against Zimbabwe, and claimed the big wicket of the Indian captain Virat Kohli for just 5. Vernon Philander was perfect with his line and length bowling and finished the innings with figures of 14.3-8-33-3. The most impressive bowler was undoubtedly Kagiso Rabada. The 22 year old quick has now become the number 1 ranked Test bowler in the world-usurping James Anderson. Rabada is the youngest person to achieve this ranking, and his performance in this game showed why he is so good. He took 3-34 at an economy of a little over 2, and just looked like he was always in control of the game. The Indian players looked nervous against him, and ultimately couldn’t assert any dominance over him. India finished on 209 all out, and to be honest, that score flattered them. They were 92-7 at one point, and looked like they would be conceding a very considerable lead after the first innings. India were rescued by Hardik Pandya who is developing into one of the best allrounders in the world of present. He scored 93 off 95 and was very unlucky not to reach his second Test century.
South Africa had a 77 run lead going into their second innings, and were looking to bat India out of the game with a lot of time left in the match. They had a strong opening stand between Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar, but both men fell just before the end of Day 2. The following day was a complete washout, and this left two days in the match for the teams to get a result. On the beginning of Day 4, South Africa were given the same treatment as India during their first innings, as their batsmen were blown away by high quality seam bowling. The wickets were shared very evenly between Mohammed Shami, Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya, as the number 1 ranked spinner in the world Ravichandran Ashwin only bowled 1 over in the innings. AB de Villiers top scored again for South Africa with 35 and was the last man out, trying to score quick runs after he had run out of competent batting partners. South Africa were bowled out for 130 leaving India a very chaseable target of 208.
The wickets continued to fall at Newlands on Day 4, as India fared no better than South Africa in the final innings of the match. Despite not having Dale Steyn, South Africa were able to bowl India out for 135 and win the match fairly comfortably in the end. Not one batsman in the Indian team looked like they were capable of staying in and making a big score in the innings, and captain Kohli was dismissed cheaply again. The star of the show for South Africa was Vernon Philander who was absolutely brilliant with the ball in hand. Philander finished with 6-42 in the innings and it looked like he had the ball on a string at times. Ravi Ashwin was India’s top scorer in their run chase with 37, and this will serve as a wake up call for the Indian batsman that they need to step up for the next game if they are to get a positive result out of it.
All in all, it was a fantastic start to what promises to be a wonderful series. South Africa showed why they are rated so highly in the bowling department, and India also showed that their fast bowlers are more than capable of holding their own on assisted pitches.