Indian Test team staring down the barrel after innings thrashing by South Africa

Inadequate bowling resources exposed in Centurion humbling

India captain Rohit Sharma is bowled by South Africa quick Kagiso Rabada. Getty Images
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The Indian team entered the red-ball leg of the South Africa tour with high expectations of registering their first ever Test series win in the country.

Victory in the preceding ODI series had raised hopes of similar form being shown by the Test regulars but the first match in Centurion turned out to be an unmitigated disaster as Rohit Sharma's team lost by an innings in three days.

More than the defeat, it was the lack of fight in any department that was the biggest concern for the team that made it to both finals of the World Test Championship.

Apart from KL Rahul's century, Jasprit Bumrah's reliable bowling and Virat Kohli's fight, the Indian team was no match for the Proteas.

More worryingly, the seamers selected for the match – Prasidh Krishna and all-rounder Shardul Thakur – proved woefully short of Test standard.

Injury to veteran quick Mohammad Shami has exposed the lack of depth in India's Test bowling resources and they have been forced to bring in limited-overs specialist Avesh Khan for the second Test, which begins on January 3 in Cape Town.

Sharma's captaincy too left a lot to be desired. He opened sessions with his weakest bowlers, persisted with Krishna even when he struggled to put the ball in one spot and himself had a forgettable match with the bat.

It resulted in another heavy away defeat against a major side. India have now lost their last three away Tests against top teams by considerable margins, including the World Test Championship final against Australia. They also failed to defend 378 in the fourth innings in the one-off Test against England in Birmingham the year before.

Captain Sharma has promised a fightback in the second Test.

“Honestly, we're not good enough to win this match,” Sharma said after India were dismissed for 131 in their second innings on the third day of the opening Test.

“I thought we got decent runs on the board on that track in the first innings, KL Rahul did brilliantly to get us that century. But then we failed to exploit the conditions with the ball.

“Then again, we didn't show up with the bat today as well. Our batting was poor in the second innings. If you want to win Test matches, you’ve got to come together collectively. But we failed to do that.

“When you lose a game in three days, there’s not a lot of positives but like I mentioned, the way KL Rahul batted in the first innings showed a lot of us what you need to do on that kind of pitch. A lot of our bowlers haven't been here before, they're still learning. So I don't want to be too critical of them.

“We will regroup, and we'll fight back."

A year that saw the Indian team enter finals of both the Test and ODI world title events ended with a humbling defeat that points to a difficult path ahead as the core of the team enter the closing stages of their careers.

Updated: December 30, 2023, 3:09 PM