After 73 grueling days on the dustbowls of darkest depths of subcontinent cricket, the South African cricket team will leave the country – a bit bruised, a bit psychologically battered, but more experienced, wiser and hopefully, smarter. The No. 1 Test team in the world – perhaps the best ever travelers in modern-day cricket – went down 3-0, the first such score line they have ever suffered since they’re reintegration into cricket in 1992. The memories of a triumphant ODI team and a streamrolling T20 team seem to have faded; their Wankhede demolition of Dhoni and co. seemed like decades ago.
Let us take a (tongue-in-cheek) look at the tour, the best moments, some necessary awards, highs and lows:
The Injury List/Bench
The South Africans under Hashim Amla didn’t quite have their best team at any point in the Test series. Invariably, the bowlers ruled out of the series due to injuries were the ones who could have made a difference, and perhaps the non-selection of their ODI stars contributed to the downfall. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander were ruled out early on, and they played the Mohali Test when Morne Morkel was injured. Morkel came back, but those two left, and eventually it looked like a one-horse bowling attack perpetually cobbled together in haste. Quinton De Kock and David Miller were overlooked, despite their T20 league experience in India. Combine all these players and you’d get the BEST TEAM of the tour.
Dr. Jekyll turned up in the T20 and ODI series; Sharma put his best (front) foot forward in the limited-overs tournaments, but watched his team go down repeatedly. He then turned into Mr. Hyde, an imposter who couldn’t quite grasp the intricacies of Test cricket, and scored 26 runs in four innings – thereby making the others in his line-up, including the struggling Shikhar Dhawan, look very good. For this selfless attitude, to provide a point of comparison for his other struggling teammates, Rohit will walk away a pleased man – in his last tour as a bachelor. His wedding is in a few days, and one suspects his teammates will hope that his temperament for marriage is better than his temperament for Test batting.
The much-hyped Ishant was banned for the Mohali Test after his outburst in Sri Lanka – where he bowled India to a famous series victory. But Ishant proved so toothless and defensive on the pitches of Bangalore, Nagpur and Delhi that his failures went completely unnoticed amidst the haze of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Morne Morkel only went to prove how height and bounce could be used smartly on the turning pitches but Ishant couldn’t get more than a wicket for his efforts. In the process, he inspired a frustrated Umesh Yadav, who was supposed to rely on Ishant for inputs, to bowl out the Proteas in Delhi in the final session. Ishant also inspired his own captain to name him in the presentation ceremony as a fast bowler who was very ‘economical’. Whatever that means.
In a way, the young Indian captain dropped so many catches in the slip cordon that he forced his bowlers to work extra hard to bowl out the Proteas in every innings. He made them search for an inner champion, for they knew that even getting an edge to slips wasn’t enough anymore unless Ajinkya Rahane was standing there. Virat set the bar though – at the lowest possible height – that even if Sourav Ganguly jumped in from his administrative post onto the field, he’d have clung on to more catches. Hard hands, a cluttered mind and a defiant life-is-a-pitch attitude made Virat the ideal foil.
The curator of the Wankhede pitch changed the course of history by laying a pitch that South Africa treated with the gusto Shane Warne reserved for Baked Beans. He made a pitch that made Dhoni wonder why he is still playing international cricket, and India crashed to a loss that must have traumatized them, considering they came into the match at 2-2 with the momentum. Naik then got into a faceoff with the bullish Ravi Shastri, India’s team director – an incident that scared the wits out of the Test-series curators, who created pitches that would make the likes of Faf du Plessis and Amla wake up in a cold, clinging sweat every night for the next decade. Mohali’s pace became history, Bangalore’s flatness was replaced by dents that would make Maruti 800s look good, Nagpur had craters that looked bigger than the ones on earthquake-torn flats and Delhi, in a way, was so normal that it took the Proteas by surprise. They had by now mastered the art of collapsing on bad pitches; a good one took them a while to get used to before fighting in the final innings of the tour.
PAYTM BRAVEHEARTS OF THE TOUR
The Ferozshah Kotla Fans
Till the last two days of the fourth test, this award had belonged to the Wankhede souls who evaporated in the dust, grime, heat, humidity and bad management to watch their team crash to one of the most one-sided defeats in ODI history. They did however get to watch an AB century and a Bhuvneshwar Kumar century (while bowling), and crawled their way out to Churchgate station after losing half their body weights. But the Kotla crowd outdid them, despite the good weather. The Delhi crowd braved pollution, smog and much more to watch South Africa deadbat 143 overs for 143 runs. Just consider that stat for a minute. And they watched them do this for more than 1.5 days of test cricket in a test that, miraculously, went to the final session of the final day. I don’t remember the last time that happened.