Three nightmare days of test cricket in Nagpur.
That’s how Hashim Amla, South African test cricket captain, described the third test that cost the Proteas their nine-year unbeaten record abroad.
India’s 124-run victory has put them in the unassailable position of 2-0 in the four-test series.
The final test starts in New Delhi on Thursday and there is considerable food for thought for the South Africans.
Amla made it clear that the Proteas wanted to win back some credit in the final test and demonstrate why they were the leading test side in the world.
But how can they do this?
In the two tests in which they were defeated, the South Africans lost both games in three days and had no answers whatsoever against the Indian spinners.
The name Ravichandran Ashwin has become a swearword to the South African batsmen.
The mental hold he apparently has on the South African batsmen is such that one simply cannot see how they will be able to successfully brave him.
As for the Nagpur test, Amla said he had never had to play in such difficult conditions.
“They were the toughest three days of my test career,” he admitted.
“The pitch made things very difficult and even the Indian batsmen struggled. You could simply never be comfortable as a batsman. It was intense and very hard work to try to survive,” he said.
“If you are dismissed for a score of 79, you have very big problems and there is basically no way to get back into the game,” he said of the first-innings fiasco.
Asked why he had waited so long before giving Imran Tahir, who eventually took five wickets, a chance to bowl in the second innings, Amla said it was because the leg spinner had a tendency of being expensive and giving runs away easily.
“If I had known he would bowl so well in the second innings, I would have let him open the bowling, but with the deficit we had, I couldn’t risk using him too soon and him being expensive.
“I thought Simon Harmer would be more effective and keep the strike rate low.
“I can look back now and realise there are things I could have done differently.”
Amla said it was a huge disappointment that, after nine years, South Africa were beaten overseas when they were only three tests away from the longest undefeated away record in the history of test cricket (17 matches).
“We are, however, in the building process with a young team and it’s going to take a while to get settled again,” he said.
But some reflection is needed on certain positions regarding the road ahead.
Ray Jennings, former SA coach and wicketkeeper, said he felt very sorry for Dane Vilas, who had done good work behind the wickets under difficult circumstances and with many deliveries only reaching him on the second bounce.
“The problem is he’s now going to be judged on his batting in almost unplayable conditions, and not for his performance as a wicketkeeper, which is his primary role in the team,” said Jennings.
In the same manner, Stiaan van Zyl was thrown to the wolves as opening batsman while he should have been batting in the middle, where he feels more at home and scored a century in his test debut.
Since the series has already been lost, there will not be any risks taken with Dale Steyn now. This will put Marchant de Lange and Kyle Abbott back in the picture.