Team India made light work, in the end, of South Africa’s tactic to just block every ball which came at them, as they sought to save the Ferozeshah Kotla Test and give some respectability to the series scoreline. The home side did take the time to dislodge the South African top-order, but went on to register an emphatic 337-run victory by bowling out the visitors for 143 in the fourth innings, winning the Freedom Trophy – also known as the Gandhi-Mandela series – by a 3-0 margin.
The visitors smothered the Indian spinners, seamers and part-timers alike for nearly five sessions, but the pattern in which they submitted was not different, at all, from the first three Tests in the series. It was an unenviable end to South Africa’s 72-day long tour of India, which had seen them win the Twenty20 (T20) and One-Day International (ODI) legs, doing so quite comprehensively too.
The Kotla pitch kept slowing down during the course of the Test match, making the wicket-taking task all the more difficult in the last innings. Not only that, run-making became difficult, too. Though people can go on about the nature of pitches, stack up the Delhi pitch with the ones on offer in Mohali, Bengaluru and Nagpur, Virat Kohli’s India were completely deserving of the 3-0 series victory. Hashim Amla’s South Africa, simply put, were just not up to the task.
Why India deserved their Freedom Trophy victory
This series victory was by no means a gimme from India’s perspective, since their batsmen, like South Africa’s, were not scoring runs and complementing their bowlers. Their bowlers’ task consequently became all the more difficult, forcing them to deliver the goods under extreme pressure. And the Indian bowling attack led by Ravichandran Ashwin managed it superbly.
One cannot mock India’s series triumph by saying that they won playing on pitches tailor-made for their spinners. Such an opinion would then dwarf how poor South Africa were, throughout. That is the reason why I pointed out to the fact that the Proteas’ submission on the final day of the Kotla Test was, in no way, different to them getting bowled out for 109 in Mohali, 185 in Nagpur, while also being dismissed for 214 on a first day Bengaluru pitch.
Ashwin, it is safe to say, was a nightmare to play against, for South Africa’s batsmen, who just could not deny him wickets at any stage in the series. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner finished with 31 wickets and picked up the man-of-the-series award, the fifth of his Test career so far. The tall off-spinner was at the peak of his prowess during the Freedom Trophy, which saw him make his off-spinners talk, befuddle the batsman with his carrom balls, turning some and getting the others to straighten after pitching and, when the Delhi wicket became docile on the fourth evening, also show immaculate control over bowling orthodox leg-spinners.
And, lest we forget his magical delivery in the second innings of the Nagpur Test, a carrom ball bowled from wide of the crease and one that straightened and trapped AB de Villiers, by far the best South African batsman throughout their India tour, plumb in front. Simply citing the pitches as ‘rank-turners’ or ‘bunsen burners’ would be lunatic and at the cost of not recognising the skill showcased by the bowler.
While Ashwin carried on from where he had left off in India’s 1-2 series triumph against Srilanka, their first Test series win in the Island nation since 1993, Ravindra Jadeja was not to be left behind on his comeback into the Indian side. His accuracy, as always, was his biggest weapon, and with a stump-to-stump line, he castled Faf du Plessis and Amla in identical fashion in Mohali. Jadeja and Ashwin complemented each other really well and their bowling partnership was one of the marquee features of India’s series triumph. The duo picked up 54 (77%) of the 70 South African wickets over seven innings.
India’s top-order batting was a major let down throughout the series, but there were a few crucial contributions that cannot go unnoticed. Jadeja’s 38 in the first innings of the Mohali Test, in which he also bagged the man-of-the-match award for his all-round performance, helped India post a score of over 200. Then, in the first innings of the ultimate Test, Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane stitched together an indispensable 98-run stand for the eighth wicket, helping India post more than 300 on the board. India were 198/7 when Ashwin joined Rahane in the middle while South Africa would have fancied their chances of bowling India out for under 250. This duo’s partnership and Ashwin’s eye-catching 56 helped India make 334, which was the highest total in the series.
South Africa managed to put up a 200+ total only once in seven attempts during the Freedom Trophy, further indicating the complete dominance India had over them. The Proteas might have surprised the home side with their ‘blockathon’ tactic in the final innings of the Kotla Test, facing 143.1 overs before getting bowled out for the seventh time in the series. But it cannot be seen as a positive when the margin of defeat was a whopping 337 runs and the tactic did not prove to be a successful one.
India, on the flip side, managed to decimate the world’s top Test side despite not playing to their potential. Their batsmen did not feel at home against the likes of Imran Tahir, Simon Harmer and Dean Elgar, who might have proved effective for the visitors, had their own batsmen been better. Kohli and co. would, however, be delighted with winning the Freedom Trophy after losing the T20Is and ODIs against the visiting South Africans. And their victory, most importantly, was completely merited, too.