Bharat Army member Abhishek Talwar reflects on the recent tour in South Africa, giving his review on the series:
The overriding feeling that India supporters can take away from this tour is one of encouragement. That may sound strange because if you were just looking at the scores you would see 2-0 to South Africa in the ODI’s and 1-0 to South Africa in the test series. Yes, India may not have actually won a game, but the way in which the most of the team performed and battled hard in the middle during the test series can give us hope of continual improvement in performances away from home.
The one day series was disappointing. Many thought that the ODI’s were India’s only chance for a win on the tour, given South Africa’s number one ranking in tests and India’s recent good form in the one day arena. India arrived and began the series almost immediately. Their lack of preparation was unfortunately obvious. Having won the toss in the first twogames, India opted to field but the bowlers never looked up to the task. Bowling a far too inconsistent length cost the Indian pacers, who were taken for a ride by some quite superbstrokeplay from Quinton de Kock, who achieved the incredible feat of three centuries in three games. Picked as one to watch by many, the youngster certainly did not disappointand was nicely supported by Amla at the other end. They took the Indian bowlers apart and amassed two 300+ totals for South Africa. A consistent theme throughout all three games was the fact that India looked beaten as soon as they came out to chase the targets down. The pace and bounce of Morkel andSteyn proved too much to handle as none of the top order batsmen got off to more than a modest start. Nobody covered themselves in any glory really. The only individual who could come out of the series with his head held high was Mohammed Shami, who took 9 wickets and was the only bowler with a respectable economy rate. In the end though, a blip in a small ODI series such as this should not concern the team too much. It just has to be accepted that South Africa were better and the Indian one day team that we know just didn’t turn up. I am confident that India will not make too many knee jerk reactions with their ODI side, as it has been a successful 2013 in this format.
On to the main event of the series – the test matches. This was what everybody was waiting for. Ultimately, it was a real shame that it was not a 4 or 5 match series. It would have been a really great spectacle, as the two test matches played were a good advert for test cricket. Tough, closely fought, and in especially the first test it had that special feel where just when you thought the match was going one way, a flurry of wickets or a rebuilding partnership would swing the game back towards the other side. That really is the making of exciting test cricket. In the first four days of the first test, India gave a very solid performance. Against the best fast bowling attack in the world, Kohli and Pujara played with strong grit, determination, application and the odd flash of class. They both left the ball outside the off stump very well.Kohli was unforgiving to the bowlers and consistent in putting the bad ball away when it came. Watching Pujara bat completely puts you at ease as a fan; he once again displayed his immense powers of concentration. Each player scored brilliant centuries in each batting innings, with Kohli 4 runs short of bagging two centuries in the match! Kohli is no doubt the poster boy of Indian cricket, and I am glad he has shown he can maintain his high standards overseas. The Pujara-Dravid comparisons will also continue due to their similar approach to an innings, but Pujara must be judged in his own right. At the moment, an average of over 66 in 17 tests says it all. These two have shown that they will be the cornerstone of the Indian side in the next ten years. I look forward to watching many more classical partnerships between them in the future. The bowlers also did their job in the first innings, with the resurgence of Zaheer ably supporting Ishant andShami in skittling out the South Africans for under 250. Much more of the same from Kohli and Pujara with the bat meant that South Africa were set the unlikely run chase of 458. Well, they got frighteningly close. Credit must go to De Villiers and Du Plessis, who batted brilliantly to edge South Africa nearer and nearer the total on day 5. The bowlers didn’t do a horrific job to be fair, I felt AB and Faf were just outstanding. In the end India can count themselves lucky that South Africa somehow fell 8 runs short of the world record target. Another team on another day would have gone for it in the last few overs and probably reached the target. For whatever reason, South Africa didn’t have a go and what looked like a probable win or at worst certain draw for India on day 4, could easily have turned into a loss! Either way, a good showing for 4 days out of 5 was something to take heart from. Even though Tahirdidn’t show up, and Morkel was injured for pretty much all of the second innings, Kohli and Pujara were supreme with the bat and Ishant and Shami hit probing line and lengths all game. Encouraging.
In the second test, Dale Steyn really came to the party and showed not only why he is the best fast bowler in the world but also why he is a big reason that South Africa are thenumber 1 test team. He simply was the difference between the two sides. His 6-100 and 3-47 displayed his balance of aggression and accuracy. It was good to see two different batsman step up to the plate for India in this game. Vijay andRahane put in respectable performances in tough conditions. There were doubts over how Vijay would cope this series, but he showed patience and played the quicks pretty well. He fell agonisingly short of a first innings hundred which he deserved. I think he still has a bit more work to do, but he has shown in this series he may just have what it takes to nail down his spot as an opener for a while to come. He certainly deserves to and will retain his place in the team for the next tour, which is further chance for him to impress. His opening partner Dhawan had a pretty contrasting time. He found it difficult this tour against the short ball and needs to go away and work on a few technical issues before New Zealand. A reasonable first innings score by India was met with a formidable 500 by South Africa. A good opening stand, followed by a typically classy display by an all-time greatKallis in his farewell test, left the Indian bowlers tired and wanting. Steyn and Robin Peterson also scored over 100 between them, again highlighting the bowlers all too familiarrecord of not being able to polish off the tail. There were generally a lot of positives to take from India’s batting, but this innings really did highlight that India’s fast bowlers still have a lot of work to do. Jadeja’s 6 wickets carried the attackthrough and he had very little help from the seamers. The question of whether this attack is capable of taking 20 wickets on a regular basis really does need to be asked because that’sthe only way we will win test matches. Zaheer will not be around for much longer, so it will be down to Shami, Ishant,Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to stake a claim for their place in the side. Apart from Ishant those bowlers are still in an early maturing stage of their career, so there is potential there. But whatever the pace attack in New Zealand and England may be, they need to ensure an improvement because the pacers just were not quite up to the mark in this game. A first innings lead of close to 200 was too much for India to overhaul, and South Africa won the game comfortably in the end. A notable mention must be given to Ajinkya Rahane, who was the outstanding figure in the middle order for India.He also batted with a good level intensity and discipline. I always felt he had the quality to play test cricket and I hope this performance cements his place at number 6.
By the end of the tour, there were a good number of positives that MS Dhoni’s side can take forward with them, especially in the batting department. Although Dhawan and Rohit were below par, the top 7 look fairly settled overall. Kohli, Pujaraand Rahane are the real deal. Jadeja’s performance with the ball also shows Ashwin has healthy competition for the spinners slot at number 8. The main concern at the moment lies with the wicket taking ability of the fast bowlers. The selection of Ishwar Pandey probably tries to address thatissue. The tall fast bowler has been included in the squads for the next series in New Zealand. He was the leading wicket taker in the 2012/13 Ranji Trophy season and is another young bowler who has the chance to hold his hand up. The aim of winning the test series in New Zealand is not too ambitious; India should be striving for that. If we can get that result, then the buzz around the series in England in the coming summer will be massive!