September 29, 2022

India tour in South Africa: what could have been?

There is an idiosyncratic use of certain words in the English language in South Africa. One that you hear repeatedly is how the must is deployed. I have to have lunch. I have to go to the stores. I need to see if this dress is available. Must is used interchangeably with should, could and might. India could, should and could have won their first round of Tests in South Africa.

Indian fans demand their team – in normal English usage of the word – to win every time they play. India should have won this series as it was the most inexperienced batting line-up South Africa had fielded in a home series against them since their readmission to international cricket in 1991-92. India could have won this series as their bowling offense was not only skillful, they had the experience of not only playing overseas but also winning series along the way. India may have won this series because they are a team that crosses the difficult points line, like the one they were in after the loss of the second test.

But, when you post scores of 327, 174, 202, 266, 223, and 198, you should expect to lose more Test matches than you win. There is no doubt that India were unlucky in the final test. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami batted several times but rarely found the edge. When the edge was found, it often did not come to hand or drawstring. Even the close referee appeals went against the team, both with the referee appeal and with the decision review system, but none of these cost India the series. .

The final rounds of the final test summed up India’s efforts. Rishabh Pant played out of his skin to be undefeated out of 100, but the only other significant contribution came from Virat Kohli, and that too only 29. This was partly because Kohli was batting conservatively, knowing his colleagues had struggling to put works on the board or assemble partnerships. If Pant had left early or if South Africa had been a little tighter and conceded less than their 28 extras, it would have been a clumsy move.

Some point out that India’s bowlers were ineffective in the second innings of the second and third Test matches. The figures show that India won only six out of a possible 20 wickets in the fourth innings in these matches. But, although bowling and batting are separate activities, they are more closely related than you might imagine.

This magnificent bowling attack, which will only falter at the end, was bound to perform miracles every time they were pinned down. That’s too much to ask, especially when you handicap them by not giving them a buffer of tracks to work with. The first step to taking wickets is to build pressure, and that’s hard to do when the opposition batsmen know that two good sessions, a big inning, or a decent partnership could win the game.

And, finally, there is the small question of choosing the right team. Both Kohli and Rahul Dravid said the extra height of South Africa’s fast bowlers allowed them to take more advantage of the conditions. This doesn’t sit well with Umesh Yadav’s choice ahead of Ishant Sharma, who is a head taller. A stationary Indian team came up against a transitioning South African side. Three short tests later, it’s time for India to pull the trigger on its mid-order transition. They just have to.

SHORT SCORES India 223 (Kohli 79, Pujara 43; Rabada 4/73, Jansen 3/55) & 198 (Pant 100*, Kohli 29; Jansen 4/36, Ngidi 3/21, Rabada 3/53) lost to South Africa 210 (Petersen 72; Bumrah 5/42) & 212/3 (Petersen 82, van der Dussen 41*, Bavuma 32*) by 7 wickets