Much to work on for teams after Wanderers thriller
South Africa have a big correction to make. There are trends emerging from their contests with India that will bother them. In each of their previous three Test series against India, they have taken a 1-0 lead with innings wins, but have given it up in the next match. In their last three ODI series against India, they have given up the 1-0 lead twice, and have lost two of their last five matches against India by one run.
India, though, are not letting the Wanderers win fool themselves. They know they need huge improvements. "Okay we have won the last game, but it was not like we played to our potential," MS Dhoni said on the eve of the third match of the series that now stands at 1-1. "We are still playing below our potential. It is important to perform up to our potential in every department, batting, bowling and fielding. We are quite a bit worried about all those things rather than concentrating on the other side.
"You need runs on the board, that's one thing the bowlers can defend. But it's not only the batting department. There are other areas too that we need to work on. Fielding is, of course, big. Whatever runs you save, whatever way you see it, it either mounts your total or gets deducted from the opposition total. If you can get one run-out per match, that can really change the course of the game. In the last two games, maybe we haven't seen too much of death bowling, but that's a very crucial aspect. There are quite a few areas we are working on."
India will try to capitalise on whatever mental edge they might have through that one-run win, but South Africa will believe this is a good time to regroup. Corrie van Zyl believes that the heartbreak at Wanderers on Saturday, where they needed 39 runs in 18 overs with six wickets in hand and still found a way to lose, can be turned around into a positive if taken in the right way.
"I believe that you must turn around every bad experience and make it work positively for you," van Zyl said. "That [Wanderers] is just one of them [experiences]. I know this team feels really bad and really hurt about the way we lost on Saturday, but you know what, if you work through that and you really analyse what has happened, it can only make you a stronger person and a stronger team."
In the absence of Jacques Kallis, South Africa had a fairly young middle order to see that chase through, and van Zyl believes that for their sake, it was good that happened in a comparatively lower-profile game than the bigger matches to come. "I think that rather it happened now and let's go through that than later. I think one day when you have achieved something - I won't say what - but when you have achieved something, you can look back and say, 'Remember that day and how we felt on that day. Or the next two days after that.' That will make it even sweeter if you are successful after that."
The choke in Johannesburg notwithstanding, South Africa are still up against a depleted Indian side, against batsmen who don't prefer the bouncing ball much, against bowlers who are fighting niggles and struggling for consistency. The biggest challenge for them remains to pick themselves after what can be a demoralising defeat.
"India have shown that they can do it," he said. "There is no reason why we can't do it. It's all a question of picking yourself up, where you understand we batted poorly in that innings. We know what we have done wrong, we have to go and rectify it. It's not difficult to pick yourself up."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo