As mentioned in the preview to the Mohali Test, the pitch was more in focus than the players. India got the surface that they wanted, but what remained to be seen was whether the hosts could exploit the conditions provided to them. In the recent past, England have made India pay for spinning pitches, with Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar outclassing the Indian batsmen, and Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen keeping the Indian spinners at bay. This was the biggest worry for India as they headed to Mohali. Their batsmen struggled under conditions they should have flourished, but the spinners made sure the game was India's.
While the surface was a tough one to bat on, the South African batsmen lost the match in the mind before they could even step out to chase the target, which could have been achieved with a couple of decent partnerships. The dismissal of Hashim Amla, shouldering arms to get clean bowled was symptomatic of the demons in South Africa's head. A couple of other dismissals also had more to do with the nervousness of the batsman than the pitch playing tricks. Stiaan van Zyl proved that it was possible to survive on the pitch if one applied their minds to the task at hands.
Even as the batsmen from both sides struggled, the clinching factor was that the Indian spinners exploited the conditions much better. Ravindra Jadeja must have been under pressure as he was making a comeback. But, on a tailor-made pitch, he made the ball talk. Jadeja pitched the ball in the right areas, and his angle from round the wicket made things extremely tough for the batsmen. He made a crucial contribution with the ball as well in the first innings. In hindsight, his 38 proved to be extremely crucial. There is still a question mark over his effort away from home, but in Indian conditions he remains a threat.
Ravichandran Ashwin also made an excellent return from injury. There were question marks over whether he would be rusty, but the offie answered the questions very early in the Test. Ashwin bowled the perfect line and length on a surface where it was all he needed to do. He constantly put doubts in the minds of the batsmen, and was rewarded accordingly. It was the kind of effort that reiterated his danger at home. Amit Mishra may not have claimed a lot of scalps, but he dismissed AB de Villiers in both innings, and that was worth his weight in gold. De Villiers was South Africa's most competent batsmen even though the numbers did not show it.
Like South Africa, India's batsmen also weren't good enough to handle the conditions, which will worry them. But, they were just slightly better that their opponents, which means the bowlers had enough runs to play with. Murali Vijay played a sublime knock in the film innings and made an crucial 30 in the second innings while in Cheteshwar Pujara's case, it was the other way round. They would however have wanted better contributions from the others. Shikhar Dhawan has gone back to his worrying form which existed before the World Cup. Despite the victory, India have issues to ponder upon.
-- By A Cricket Analyst