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SA Tour: Bitter end to one of Team India's better years

Last updated on: December 31, 2013 15:38 IST

SA Tour: Bitter end to one of Team India's better years

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Bikash Mohapatra

Despite talk about doing well overseas, the reality is that it will take more time, and a concentrated effort -- and that includes making sporting wickets at home -- for Team India to perform consistently overseas, let alone win, says Bikash Mohapatra.

-Team India Report Card: Kohli, Pujara 8/10; Rohit Sharma 2/10

It could have been a perfect year for M S Dhoni and Co.

It could have been the year when the team would have remained unbeaten in each and every bilateral series or multi-nation tournament they featured in.

It could have been a year where the team wouldn’t have lost a single Test match.

It could have been Team India’s annus mirabilis.

It could have been… but for the trip the team undertook towards the fag end of the year.

South Africa is one of the two countries – Australia being the other – where the Indian team has never won a bilateral series.

Yeah, you heard it right. One of the first teams to tour South Africa – post their return to international cricket in 1991 – India returned empty-handed every time in the last two decades. (Down Under that period stretches to seven decades)

This occasion was no different.


Image: Virat Kohli reacts after being given out
Photographs: Rogan Ward/Reuters

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Team India had scripted a fairytale in the first 11 months.

A dominating performance in the One-day format – they have a stranglehold over the No 1 ranking – had seen them win bilateral series against England, Zimbabwe, Australia and West Indies, a tri-series – also featuring Sri Lanka – in the Caribbean and the biggest of them all, the last edition of the ICC Champions Trophy (in England in June).

In the five-day format the team completed a first-ever whitewash (4-0) against Australia, thereby avenging the humiliation Down Under (with a similar score line) in 2011-12.

Besides, the West Indies had been accounted for inside three days at both the Eden Gardens and the Wankhede stadium to ensure the legendary Sachin Tendulkar a perfect farewell.

It all seemed so perfect, with everything going as per script. Yet, when the Indian team embarked upon the tour of South Africa, doubt replaced the confidence previously on display.

The team’s previous two overseas trips – to England and Australia – had been disasters, and with a lot of experienced players – Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman – having retired and the others – Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir – dropped, not many believed this young Indian side could end their jinx in South Africa, in the face of what is the best bowling attack in world cricket.


Image: India's Virat Kohli dances after his team won the ICC Champions Trophy final
Photographs: Philip Brown/Reuters

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The One-day series proved the doubters were right. The Indian batsman, most of them flat track bullies, were clueless against the pace and bounce of Dale Steyn and Co.

-Kallis knew it was time to quit Test arena

-We wanted to win it for Jacques: Smith

The Test series began on a similar note at the Wanderers, before Team India slowly but steadily took a stranglehold of the match, getting to a winning position.

However, as it has happened many times in the past – even the staunchest of supporters will agree with this – the team ensured despair after offering hope, almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Why South Africa didn’t go for victory is a question best left unanswered.

But the home team did carry forward the confidence to the second and deciding Test in Durban, and despite the visitors starting well, the end result – and consequently the series – went in South Africa’s favour, in a comprehensive manner at that.


Image: South Africa's Jacques Kallis takes a lap of honour
Photographs: Rogan Ward/Reuters

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It’s India’s first Test loss for the year. And it continued their overseas run in recent times.

Since beating West Indies in the opening match at Sabina Park (Jamaica) in June 2011, Team India has lost nine of their 12 Tests played. In the corresponding period they won 11 of the 15 Tests on placid home conditions.

The statistics clearly indicate the difference. Despite all ‘big’ talk about doing well overseas, the reality is that it will take some more time, and a concentrated effort – and that includes making sporting wickets at home – for Team India to perform consistently overseas, let alone win.


Image: South African players celebrate after dismissing Rohit Sharma
Photographs: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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The fact that they play mostly abroad in 2014 apart from being cause for concern is also an opportunity to adapt.

As regards returning empty-handed from South Africa, Dhoni has already claimed his team had no time to adapt. Had the original tour, as per ICC’s FTP, gone ahead, India's captain wouldn’t have had a chance to complain. A four-Test series would definitely have offered a better chance to adapt and mount a comeback.

But differences between the two boards meant it wasn’t the case. The shortened tour became the lone blot in what was otherwise a great year for Team India.

On the positive side, it was good that an ad hoc series against the West Indies was organised to give a farewell to Tendulkar. The Master Blaster deserved to sign off on a winning note. An early trip to South Africa would have ensured otherwise.


Image: Mohammed Shami (left) and Virat Kohli of India play football during the Indian national cricket team training session
Photographs: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images/Getty Images

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