Cricket: Harsh Lessons For India From The “Extravagant South African Safari”

When India arrived in South Africa in December 2021 Covid loomed large on the series as Omicron cases were going through the roof in the Sub-Saharan country. Almost everyone was expecting a premature end to the series. However, the series concluded smoothly without any Covid-led disruption and that remains one of the few positives for the touring Indian side in the entire journey.

A South African side sans de Villiers, Steyn, Philander, Amla, Du Plessis etc was supposed to be a proverbial lamb for the marauding Indians. But an inexperienced and a further depleted Proteas lineup (No de Kock in Tests and Rabada in ODIs, and Anrich Nortje out to injury) turned tables on a superior Indian attack and how. So, let us look into the aspects that went completely wrong for the much-hyped Indian outfit.

Kohli-BCCI Tussle Was Ill-timed

It would be wrong to predict otherwise but the rift between Kohli and the BCCI could not have happened at the wrong time. Whether it’s Kohli’s rebuttal of Ganguly’s claim or Ganguly’s vengeful demeanour after Kohli’s explosive revelations, the unfortunate events preceded immediately before the Proteas sojourn. The ODI captaincy row could have been handled in a better way as the negative effects filtered down to the team’s fortunes.

Nobody wants to know as to what transpired between former Indian captain and the BCCI administrators but the episode proved yet again that transitions have to be smooth and there should not be any bad blood between players and game’s administrators.

Rohit Is Key To Team’s Fortunes in Tests and ODIs

In Test, recently though, as well as ODIs whenever Team India has done well the Mumbai batsman has had an integral part to play most of the time. Be it the England Test Series of August 2021 or the New Zealand T-20 series of November 2021, Rohit’s impact with the willow was instrumental in India doing well on both occasions.

Unlike Dhawan or Kohli, Rohit invariably finishes off the job for the team while batting and that was one of the big differences with regard to the outcomes in the South African series. Therefore, the match-defining knocks from the Hitman would have changed the final result of the South African series, especially the 3-0 whitewash in the ODIs.

Bhuvaneshwar, Ashwin Are No White Ball Materials

One of the harsh realities that dawned upon Indian supporters was that if the team intends to be a superior one in the white-ball cricket, then both Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Ravi Ashwin should not be in the scheme of things. The veterans’ inadequacies as ODI members were quite stark compared to their Proteas counterparts, more so Kumar who has not only lost the ability to swing but even the pace involved in his deliveries was very minimal.

As a result, the Meerut pacer ended up with zero wickets and was rightly dropped from the last ODI. With regard to Ashwin, the off spinner’s inability to take wickets in the middle overs and his struggles with the bat dented India’s prospects to a great extent in the ODI series. So, it would be quite surprising to see them in coloured clothes in future.

Lack of All-Rounders Hurt India Badly

Yes, more than ever, India missed the services of Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja in the current series. Team India’s new head coach was very blunt on this matter while addressing the media after the ODI disaster: “Some of the guys who help us balance the squad out and give us those all-round options at Nos 6, 7 and 8 are probably not here, and available for selection. Hopefully, when they (Hardik and Jadeja) come back, it will give us a lot more depth, it allows us then to probably play in a slightly different style.”

Shardul Thakur did his best in the first and second ODIs but India needed more from him and the team should also look to groom Venkatesh Iyer for future games as there is a question mark over Hardik’s return to Team India.

Middle Order Woes

The all familiar middle-order problems haunted India in both ODIs as well as Tests. If Pujara and Rahane came under scrutiny in Tests for lack of runs, then Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant were both found wanting in ODIs, though the latter scored a century in the last Test and a half-century in the second ODI he continues playing reckless shots with alarming regularity across the formats.

If India want to be a superior side in both formats then the middle order needs to be strengthened quick and fast. Bring in new players, drop out-of-form players or crush the tendency to play rash shots harshly, India have no option but to bite the bullet. The team cannot rely on Rohit, Kohli and Dhawan to do the heavy weight lifting all the time. With two World Cups coming in two years, time is fast running out for India to stabilise their middle-order batting.

Connect with NRI experts via WhatsApp | Click here