After almost two whole years of playing Tests at home, India’s first overseas Test task was arguably the most daunting in world cricket at the moment: to face the World Number 1 team in their backyard. With a Test batting line up barely recognisable to that which last played a Test series overseas (only captain Dhoni, and Kohli having done so), India were being written off before the BCCI had even hastily scheduled a two Test match series to farewell Sachin Tendulkar.
India’s form, and record for that matter, at home cannot be argued with. Six victories on the trot should count for something, however historically India have been one of the worst tourists in Test history. Generation after generation of Indian batsmen have found it hard to adapt to conditions conducive to pace, bounce and lateral movement. Indian seamers genrally have found it difficult to find their length and exploit conditions as much as their opponents, and the spinners have often been confused about their roles – are they the wicket taking menaces they are at home, or should they tie down an end and hope the seamers get it right.
The inexperience in both the batting and bowling attacks, was something not seen in Indian cricket in a generation. Zaheer Khan brought back for the reason of shepherding the young pace brigade, after not featuring for India in almost a year. It’s almost a surprise that Indian selectors didn’t try recalling Rahul Dravid to do the same for the batsmen (as they did in the England ODIs in 2011).
Despite being all but written off before even landing in the Rainbow Nation, the young Turks of India had a point to prove. All have them have been slugging it out in domestic cricket, in T20 cricket and in ODI cricket to try and find an opening in that Indian line up that had been for so long, very well established.
The flamboyance of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma did not come off for them against the best pace attack in the world. Both played well below par. Shikhar did the hard yards, and got a start each of his four innings but failed to capitalise. Rohit Sharma, after a dream debut series, had a series to forget. 45 runs in four innings, including an absolute brain snap, leaving his first delivery in the 2nd Test off Steyn – which sent his middle stump cartwheeling.
Virat Kohli showed the world nothing new. He showed the world that he is capable of making runs anywhere, in any conditions. He has done so in the shorter format for some time now, and after making his debut century in Australia – runs in South Africa just cemented his position as the leader of the batting lineup going forward. Cheteshwar Pujara added to his tally of runs as well, filling the large whole left by the retirement of The Wall. Murali Vijay was the most surprising out of the top order. Murali Vijay, at the best of times is unsure of his spot in the team. Constant pressure from former opener, Gautam Gambhir, has kept Vijay on his toes. Carefully crafting an innings of 97 in the 1st innings of the 2nd Test, where Steyn produced an amazing spell of bowling has assured that Vijay is the man for the job at the top of the order for the long haul.
Ajinkye Rahane can count himself unlucky for not getting his debut century in Durban. Many felt Rahane was batting one or even two spots too low down the order, becoming a victim of circumstance in the process. The middle-orders inability to withstand a pressure spell of bowing from Steyn and co. on the fifth day of the 2nd Test required him to play some rash shots batting with the tail, to try and set up somewhat of a total to defend.
The bowling proved to adapt well to the conditions in the first one and a half Tests. Khan lead the attack well in Joburg, and was supported well by Ishant and Shami. The short turnaround in Tests proved too much for Khan and he produced a lackluster performance in Durban, raising some serious question marks about his future involvement in the Indian set up. Ashwin, who some see as an ODI and sub-continent specialist, did nothing to enhance his reputation. There were shades of Nathan Hauritz in how mediocre Ashwin’s performance was in Joburg, and was rightly dropped for Jadeja in Durban. Jadeja bowled well and silenced his critics, and has put his hand up for being the number one spin option outside of the sub-continent – however, with two triple centuries in domestic cricket, he must perform to potential in the batting department to be considered an automatic selection.
All in all, despite India losing the Test series 1-0, one must remember they were playing the best team in the world in their backyard. One must also remember that since 2011, Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand have all been bundled out for less than 50 while touring South Africa, and given the perception of the frailties in the Indian batting line up outside of Asia, its a victory in itself that they posted competitive totals.
There is a lot to ponder about the make up of the bowling attack, going into 11 consecutive away Tests starting with NZ (2), England (5) and Australia (4) in the next 18 months. India may try and expose Amit Mishra or Umesh Yadav to NZ, as they would be less challenging opponents than England and Australia. A big 15 months coming up for Team India.