In the first Test at Centurion, from the point Virat Kohli was dismissed in the first innings, to the time India were bowled out for only 174 in their second innings, they lost 17 wickets for the addition of only 202 runs.
The magic of Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah bailed India out, allowing them to win a Test match in which their batsmen had underperformed yet again.
On the first day of the second Test, India were bowled out for 202.
Once again they had won the toss, and thids time they were without Virat Kohli. While India’s captain has not been among the runs in the recent past, the aura he has and the reputation he takes out to the middle means that his wicket is still the one the opposition bowlers want the most.
Kohli brings a certain intimidation factor to the Indian batting line-up, and his back spasms meant the visiting team were on the back foot even before the first ball was bowled.
When play got underway, however, Rahul and Mayank Agarwal seemed set to reprise their great work at Centurion.
While they were 43 for 0 after the first hour last week, they were 36 for 0 at the same time in the Test on the day.
But this is where the similarity ended. Off the first ball, after the drinks break, Agarwal went, and then there was little substance from the middle-order yet again.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s poor run extended by yet another innings as he played out 33 nervy, jittery balls before being dismissed for only 3.
Since his last century, in Australia in January 2019, Pujara has played 26 Tests and 45 innings with a highest score of 91 at an average of 26.86.
The body of work he has put together over the years and the solidity he brought to the top order has meant that he has got the longest rope possible. In the recent past, however, it is his defensive technique that has failed Pujara. While previously he would wear the opposition bowling down before being dismissed, even if he did not score too many or too quickly, his mistakes are coming earlier and earlier in his innings and he is paying the ultimate price.
It will take a miracle for Pujara to escape the axe much longer.
If Pujara was walking on eggshells, Ajinkya Rahane was the opposite, too keen to put bat to ball too early on. Off the very first ball he faced, Rahane poked, outside off, with an angled bat, and only nicked off to third slip.
Had Rahul not sealed off one end, seeing off 133 balls for 50, and R Ashwin not come to the party with a typically organised and counter-attacking innings of 46, at No. 7 — and his runs came off just 50 balls with six boundaries — India would have been bowled for something well short of a competitive total.
When you look at 202, you think this is far too few.
And it probably is, given that the average first innings score at the Wanderers is 316.
But, India now have a bowling attack that ensures that even 202 allows hope to float, especially in conditions where the ball is doing a bit.
The early indications are that this pitch will offer significant variable bounce as the game goes on. There was no rain at all on the first day, and the hot sun will do its bit in evaporating all the moisture that is just under the surface and cause any cracks around to widen.
India will know this plays into their hands. Bumrah and Shami are both hit the deck bowlers and Mohammad Siraj is good at exploiting lateral movement.
When you’re bowled out cheaply in the first innings, and India will count their score as just that, the best-case scenario is that you get the opposition out for a similar score, if not just a bit more.
Then you get into a single-innings shoot out.
If India can force that, they will know that they have the upper hand, because South Africa will have to bat last, when the conditions are the most challenging.