Lessons from the South African nightmare

There are lessons to be learnt from India’s abject performance in South Africa. Unless everybody is on the same page as far as preparations for England and later in the year for Australia and New Zealand are concerned, the sorry tale in South Africa will be repeated.

Soldiering alone: Virat Kohli scored a sublime century in Cape Town but found little support from the other batsmen.   -  AFP

So the South African dream has turned into a nightmare. It was Indian cricket’s collective dream to see Virat Kohli and his boys win a series in South Africa. India went close in 2011, but they did not have the bowlers to get twenty wickets and Jacques Kallis, despite a broken rib, got a century in the second innings to add to his first innings hundred to take Proteas home to safety. What a batting line-up India had then. It was the envy of the world. They had two openers of contrasting styles in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, followed by Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman. There was M. S. Dhoni too. They, however, didn’t have anybody to support Zaheer Khan. Ishant kept bowling good spells but didn’t pick up wickets and so the dream had to be postponed for another tour.

The issues between the two boards meant that the next tour in 2013 was only a two Test series so neither team could claim any superiority unless they won both Tests. India batted splendidly in both innings of the Wanderers Test where Virat Kohli, who by then had become a world class batsman, almost scoring a century in each innings. Cheteshwar Pujara also scored a fine century to show the strength of India’s batting with Vijay and Rahane chipping in with fifties. With pretty much the same batting line-up, but with the addition of a potent new ball attack, Indian cricket lovers rightly looked forward to this trip with bated breath.

The hopes went sky high when Bhuvaneshwar Kumar ripped out three South African wickets in the first half an hour of the first Test. South Africa’s two experienced as well as technically sound batsmen, AB de Villiers and skipper Faf du Plessis, not only steadied the innings but made sure that the early venom in the pitch was neutralised. Then the lower order defied the bowling in its own manner and added valuable runs to take South Africa to a good score, especially on a pitch which still had some juice in it.

Cricket is about not just knowing one’s own strengths but weaknesses too. So if the hook shot on a bouncy pitch is not a strength then it has to be kept in storage till one gets used to the bounce and movement off the pitch. If the moving ball is causing issues then stop pre delivery movements, if running quickly is not your strength then clearly there must be no runs attempted with a degree of danger in it. Today with just about every run being referred to the TV umpire, marginal decisions can cost a wicket. If bowling bouncers is not a plus point then don't attempt it.

The bowlers have done well to pick forty wickets in the two Tests so far, but the batting, with all its experience on South African pitches, has just not been able to cope. The exception, of course, is the skipper Virat Kohli, who got as good a Test century as one could wish to see, full of wonderful strokes, solid technique and the uncanny ability to find gaps in the field. There was no support for him and the team folded badly even when just chasing 208 runs to win in Cape Town.

There are lessons to be learnt of course and quickly and unless everybody is on the same page as far as preparations for England and later in the year for Australia and New Zealand the sorry tale in South Africa will be repeated. Only the small fry will get the axe, but those who made the preparation decisions will go scot free.

This is a big year for Indian cricket even if the first month has not panned as hoped and that's why we should only think what’s good for the team on the field and nothing else.