South Africa’s Test captain Dean Elgar has said that he could not be prouder of his players after the hosts produced an outstanding comeback and defeated India in the three-match Test series with the score of 2-1.
Proteas’ Keegan Petersen hit 82 on the fourth day of the final Test to set up a memorable series win against the top-ranked Test side at the Newlands on Friday.
Petersen ended the series as the highest run-getter with 276 runs, which included three half-centuries in the last two games.
Elgar was full of praise for the 28-year-old batter, saying that he was among the few players who responded since the first game of the series.
“He’s been immense. I’ve known Keegan for quite some time now, I’ve played a lot of domestic cricket against him. [I] Always known he’s a good player. He’s gone into a ‘great player’ mould now which is obviously a lot to say for guys who’ve only played a few or handful of Tests,” he said.
He highlighted that the talented batter had been dominating the domestic circuit for quite some time now and hoped that he may grow further as a player.
It was a remarkable comeback by an inexperienced South African team, who were outplayed by the visitors in the first Test in Centurion but came back strongly to win the next two matches despite losing the toss and having to bat last in all three fixtures.
It was an intense chase before lunch on the day, with South Africa having to work for almost every run after being set to make 212 on a pitch that was pretty bowling friendly.
Petersen, on 59, survived a straightforward chance to Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip off Jasprit Bumrah in the seventh over of the day.
Petersen went on to add 23 more valuable runs as he and Rassie van der Dussen (41 not out) put on 54 runs after resuming at the overnight score of 101 for the loss of two wickets.
South Africa reached lunch on 171 for three and the visitors seemed resigned to their fate with just 41 runs remaining in securing a memorable triumph.
Van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma (32 not out) took South Africa to victory with an unbeaten stand of 57.
Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami both beat the bat several times at the start of the day but it was the lesser pace of Shardul Thakur that brought the only breakthrough on Friday when Petersen chopped on to his stumps with 57 runs still needed. However, it was too late by then.
“Pretty elated, I think it will obviously sink in in a day or two, maybe this evening,” Elgar said while talking in the post-match presentation. “Couldn’t be prouder of the group, of players I have underneath me. We were thrown under the sword quite a few times in the series and the guys responded brilliantly.”
The left-handed opening batter shared that after losing the opening game of the series, the players had a positive mindset while going into the second and third Test. They had the confidence that they could still clinch the series from that point.
“We obviously had to follow our ways and processes going into those games. [I] asked the players to respond in a better nature, better way and they responded brilliantly,” he said.
On being asked how South Africa managed to turn results in their favour despite being somewhat inferior to the opponents in terms of experience, Elgar maintained that challenging players within the group helped him achieve the outcome.
“You need immense characters to stand up in these kinds of tough situations. The way our bowling unit came in and operated throughout the last two Tests has been brilliant; throughout the series, they’ve been brilliant,” he said, mentioning picking sixty wickets in a Test series is no small feat.
“I threw down the challenge after the first game and the guys responded brilliantly,” he stated.
According to the captain, it was unreal to see how a group that doesn’t have the repertoire or names, gelling together and playing as one.
“This is a proper unit that we’ve operated in and it’s a proper team,” he reminisced. “By no means can I single-handedly pick out players because everyone has played a big part in vital situations throughout the series. Extremely, extremely proud of this group.”
The series was dominated by fast bowlers with the South African trio of Kagiso Rabada (20), Marco Jansen (19) and Lungi Ngidi (15) heading the wicket-takers. India’s leading wicket-takers were Shami (15), Bumrah (12) and Thakur (12).
India captain Virat Kohli also admitted that the team’s batting was the one that let them down in the series.
“It is definitely batting. I don’t think we can pinpoint any other aspect of our game as a team,” Kohli said at the post-match presentation. “Having collapses every now and then is not a good thing. And that’s something we need to analyse and correct, moving forward.”
India’s key batters, including Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinka Rahane all averaged in the low 20s despite playing all three games.
Pujara and Rahane’s form has been an ongoing problem for India for about a couple of years. However, when Kohli was questioned about the duo’s immediate future, he refused to give any clear answer, saying that it needs to be discussed with the selectors as it is something that is not his job.
“As I said before and I will say again, we have continued to back Cheteshwar and Ajinkya because of the kind of players they are, what they have done in Test cricket for India over the years and playing crucial knocks in the second Test as well,” he added.
The 33-year-old said that he was disappointed with the result as they could not become the first Indian side to beat South Africa in their home conditions.
However, he highlighted that if people were expecting them to beat South Africa in South Africa, it means that they did wonderful in the past.
“But that doesn’t guarantee you any results. We still have to come out here and play hard cricket, which we failed to do this time around,” he said.
On the positives, the India’s Test captain was all praise for the bowlers, opening batter KL Rahul and wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant, who scored a brilliant ton in the third Test.
“Rishabh’s knock in the second innings of this Test match was quite special,” he said. “Obviously, the first win at Centurion was very special as well. So yes, you take out whatever you can from a series like this and as I said, move ahead, come back as improved cricketers and try to do the job one more time.”
Read more: South Africa captain Elgar seeks to block out the ‘bad news’
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