South Africa in India 2004-05 December 3, 2004

Upwards on the learning curve



Zander de Bruyn: one of South Africa's many pluses © AFP

The series may have been lost in the end, but South Africa's tour of India was an important learning experience - both on and off the field - that will reap benefits further down the line.

There were fears before the tour that a young and inexperienced outfit would make fools of themselves, but they need not worry that they have let either themselves or their supporters down. As Omar Henry, SA's convenor of selectors, says: "They confronted the difficulties of the subcontinent and I think they surprised people with how they performed. There is still room for improvement, but there were very good signals, and we can bank on seeing the benefits of the tour later on."

Far more experienced touring teams have fared much worse in India, and for the former South African coach Graham Ford the most pleasing aspect of the tour was the number of runs the visitors managed to score.

"I thought the batsmen did exceptionally well because their concentration had to be superb, and the main thing to come out of the tour is that the team would have grown considerably in terms of the mental aspect," Ford told Cricinfo.

"Andrew Hall has always had the ability to bat up front, but he now knows how to play when conditions don't suit him. And Zander de Bruyn also did fantastically well," added Ford. "We have a bit more of a tail these days, but it's okay because I think the guys re-established themselves as a quality batting side."

For Henry, the most impressive feature of the tour was the inauguration of a whole new attitude to touring the subcontinent. Before, South African teams used to closet themselves away in their luxury hotels, but the current squad adopted the excellent attitude of getting out there and experiencing India.

"First and foremost, the team have found a way to enjoy the subcontinent. Their whole attitude and approach has been far more based on enjoyment," said Henry. "Touring the subcontinent is a major test of character."

And Henry added that nothing had given him more pleasure than the team's "buzz" on the field: "It was a joy to watch the guys playing the way they do in South Africa. There's been an absolute change in mindset."

Henry mentioned the batting of Jacques Kallis, Hall's innings at Kanpur, the bowling of Makhaya Ntini and the fielding as the major positives to come out of the tour, but there was no progress on the vexed issue of South African spin bowling.

Said Ford: "Nothing's been done in 12 years about a spinner, and we just seem to go round in circles." He was happy, however, with the other bowlers. "There was nothing wrong with the back-up bowling. They were consistent and had the skill and discipline to stick to the game plan."

Ford believes South Africa are in reasonable shape heading into the home series against England. "The team has gone forward in a lot of aspects," he concluded, "and provided the selectors make good decisions for the series against England, we should be very competitive."