The lessons learnt in South Africa could come in handy on future tours
The bare facts state that on its month-long tour to South Africa, India did not win a single match. The latest being the 0-1 loss in Tests.
We could raise the ghosts of previous dismal tours — England and Australia — but that would be doing injustice to a team that is not yet the fully-formed product and is very much a work in progress.
On paper, the No. 1 team South Africa held all the aces. It had an established batting line-up in contrast to the fledgling status of its counterpart while the host’s bowlers — Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel — were deemed tough to counter.
It is against such an outfit that Dhoni’s men stretched the first Test at Johannesburg and earned a gripping draw. The second Test though revealed the gulf between the two squads — an established one at the top of its powers though that might need some re-jigging with the exit of Jacques Kallis and a transitional team which had Dhoni and Zaheer Khan as its most experienced players.
However, the difference in relative quality was largely engineered by Steyn’s magnificent spells that cut short partnerships and forced stumps to do a cartwheel which also made his bowling coach Allan Donald ‘jump up and down in excitement.’
India had its gains too. Cheteshwar Pujara (280) and Virat Kohli (272) topped the overall aggregates cutting across both teams and interestingly Ajinkya Rahane (209) emerged third and that is a huge plus for India. Add to it Murali Vijay’s (148) willingness to do battle with the finest fast bowlers in the world and certainly India’s batting nucleus is ready.Cause for worry
On the flipside, the downturn in Shikhar Dhawan (76) and Rohit Sharma’s (45) fortunes after the peaks they scaled in matches back home, is a cause for worry. The faster they score runs overseas, the better it is for their credentials. Dhoni (87) too has to step up as a batsman especially when India tours and more so in the current environment of a lower-order that is no longer lending valuable runs.
The skipper’s secondary-role of trying to choke the runs instead of going for the wickets with a new-ball when Kallis eased towards his ton in the first innings here, did rankle but Dhoni said that everything hinged on reverse swing and his decisions were based on that.
The bowling, meanwhile, gained an edge thanks to Zaheer Khan. The spearhead bowled his heart out at Johannesburg and though he had minimal impact in the second Test, he was India’s highest wicket-taker (7) and also mentored Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami.Jadeja the bowler
Among the spinners, Ravindra Jadeja (6) proved that he can prosper though his ability to score triple tons in domestic cricket is yet to find a minimal expression in the longer format. R. Ashwin, did a holding role in the first Test and though he was dropped for the second, South African opener Alviro Petersen said that the off-spinner could have been a handful at the Kingsmead Stadium.
India’s fielding has made progress and the throws especially Rahane’s have been on the money. Catching in the slips, however, remains a touch shaky and the youngsters would need more time before they can slip on the assurance that Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman lent in that zone.
The lessons imbibed here could come in handy as India would soon embark on a tour to another country in the southern hemisphere — New Zealand. A miniscule two-Test series may not be the ideal barometer to judge players and results but the stint in South Africa showed that the team has, like how Dhoni simplistically said, ‘the right ingredients and now the cooking needs to be done.’