India in South Africa 2013-14 December 3, 2013

Less-significant South Africa tour still vital yardstick for India


This was supposed to be India's big tour. It was two years of home cricket in the making. India had even sent an A team here earlier in the year to become more familiar with the conditions. And it was a proper A team: except for Virat Kohli, all the Test batsmen in this side made the trip. Coach Duncan Fletcher himself dropped in. For a change, the cricketing wing of Team India was looking ahead, or possibly the change was that it was being paid heed to.

It was a proper tour: three Tests, seven ODIs, two Twenty20s. Enough time to travel all over this beautiful country. Enough time to lose form, enough to regain it. Enough time for ups and downs and all the experiences a cricket tour brings. Enough time for rhythms to build. Except that the real world sometimes doesn't agree with proper cricket. And so we have a tour not many are excited about. Three years ago "we are waiting" billboards welcomed India everywhere they went. This time around the local press seems to suggest only aggressive crowds are waiting to let their displeasure be known.

The statistics being dug out are of the last time a team other than Zimbabwe, Bangladesh or the Associates came to South Africa for a tour of decent length but didn't go to Cape Town at all. Incidentally, it happened back in November 2002 when Sri Lanka didn't play any of their five ODIs and two Tests in the Mother City. Once the disappointment of a wasted tour subsides, though, you will realise it is still a significant trip for India. There is a "last" that happened with India much before the last time a visiting team didn't go to Cape Town.

The last time India went through such complete overhaul of batting, going to a proper - in terms of strength of opposition, not duration - tour with such a raw batting line-up, full of virtual debutants, was when Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, and later VVS Laxman, started to join Sachin Tendulkar in the middle order. All four properly came together incidentally on a tour of South Africa. In a way Tendulkar has not done India many favours by playing all the home Tests and then retiring before this tour. Those were matches a youngster could have used to gain experience before a year full of overseas assignments.

Like the mutated tour, though, you have no choice but to be philosophical about this now. These batsmen still have it better than their predecessors. That the ODIs are before the Tests salvages the situation a bit for India. As MS Dhoni said before leaving for South Africa, the nature of that format and that it demands a more free-flowing game will help the young batting line-up get rid of early nerves before the two-Test series begins. In a way, the same can be said in the larger scheme of these batsmen's careers too.

When Dravid and Ganguly made their Test debut, in England, they had played five and two ODIs, and had barely seen the world outside India. Laxman was on a tour of South Africa before he had played an ODI. Only Virender Sehwag among that older group had with him a body of work in international cricket - 22 ODIs - before he became a Test cricketer.

Almost all of the batsmen on this trip have had experience of being in international cricket before this tour. Rohit Sharma set the record for most ODIs before Test debut, Shikhar Dhawan faces Dale Steyn in the IPL nets, and Kohli has established himself as one of the best chasers in ODIs and captains the likes of AB de Villiers. Even though this batting line-up has a collective experience of three Tests in South Africa, they have the exposure, they are more worldly wise, more confident than Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman were when they were sent to face Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, a young and quick Lance Klusener, and Brian McMillan. The test now is of their skill, of their temperament, of how they adjust to the conditions, how they make the adjustment from facing Sammy and his friendly friends in Kanpur to Steyn and Co on pitches with bounce and seam.

It's not all about the batsmen, though. India's famous overseas Test wins have of late been set up by their bowlers. They have also tended to escape a lot of flak because it has always been the great Indian batting line-up that has been expected to carry them through everywhere. This time around, under the mentorship of the returning Zaheer Khan, they will possibly be asked the same number of questions as the batsmen.

Apart from Zaheer, only Ishant Sharma has played a Test in South Africa, and he doesn't look like he will add to that tally. The bowlers, too, will rely on the ODIs to get used to the outfields on which they will run in, to condition themselves to bowl long spells, to find the lengths that will give them assistance. Like the batsmen, they might benefit from lower expectations.

It is an unusual tour for India. One that promises to actually test how good India's transition from the desperation of 2012 has been, but one that comes with lower expectations than those two away tours in which they were whitewashed. The ODI series, given South Africa's recent form, is open - although South Africa might still fancy a few psychological blows on extra spicy pitches - but in the Tests you'd venture India will take anything better than a 2-0 defeat to a fully fit South African side, provided it doesn't come through weather interruptions.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harmon on December 5, 2013, 11:27 GMT

    @Greatest_Game: A bit late now but I saw your comments just now.

    I agree that the wickets in CT13 were not like the usual Eng wickets but this does not mean that if they were slower than usual then they were as slow as typical Indian wickets. There is a point in a middle and that is where they were. Otherwise you would be hard pressed to explain why SA could score only 175 in the SF vs Eng when they had to bat first. Also, if they were just like the typical Ind wickets, why were SA unable to chase 334 vs India like India seem to do all the time on the Indian wickets? India scored 321 vs SL in 37 overs in Aus when it was imperative but why were Aus not able to do the same vs the same opposition on a wicket that was like a typical Indian wicket? Above all, why couldn't Eng score a mere 130 runs in 20 overs which is really nothing in today's age.

    Another angle is ... if Eng can't maintain their usual wickets just due to a long dry spell, why are Indian wickets blamed for being slow?

  • Muthuvel on December 4, 2013, 21:28 GMT

    india will play better than they are expected i would be excited to see how Shami goes, but SA should get ODI 3-0 and Tests 2-0.

  • t on December 4, 2013, 19:29 GMT

    "This time around the local press seems to suggest only aggressive crowds are waiting to let their displeasure be known"...brilliant news.. whenever the Indians have been under attack from external sources they've bandied together & performed even better (CT '13, WC '03, Perth '08) so I hope SA fans do that coz it'll mean India will win & if the SA fans dont turn up (as has been suggested) then it wont affect the Indian players one bit, its not like they're starved of attention otherwise & anyways a good number of Indian supporters will be there to keep their spirits up. in fact if SA fans boycott the games it'll become like a home game for the Indians. not to mention the gate receipts will be hurt which will only affect CSA (& indirectly the SA players).. talk about cutting your nose to spite your face

  • David on December 4, 2013, 19:23 GMT

    @ Nampally wrote "@Greatest -Game: By nature the grass surface in England is always green unless we suddenly have a long dry spell."

    Check the weather records. It WAS a long, dry spell (for England.) The tracks were not green. They simply were not. These pages were filled with comments on that fact. Revise history as much as you want, the tracks were dry.

    " No doubt, they (spinners) were aided by pitch conditions that were unlike the norm at this time of the year in England … The stats seem to validate the premise - the average and the strike rate of spin bowlers in this Champions Trophy were the best in all the editions of the tournament - and that is an interesting evidence considering that three of the seven editions have been played in the subcontinent."

    Perhaps cricinfo's stats analysis might help your revisionist history. Try reading it!

  • t on December 4, 2013, 18:54 GMT

    dhoni leading a bunch of inexperienced players to SA for the 1st time without seniors & being written off before landing... hope things go as they did the last time that exactly same thing happened (t20 WC '07)

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2013, 15:25 GMT

    @GRVJPR...the sign of a nation's strength in a sport can also be measured by whether its supporters can withstand criticism without needing to answer each doubter. This Indian team is definitely more mature than the greenhorns who toured South Africa in the 90's and now that the team contains members picked on form rather than reputation, I definitely expect a much better performance than in Aus and Eng. That being said, until they prove themselves against the SA attack on a bouncy track, they will still be underdogs. Which is fine. Dhoni's boys were underdogs in the T20 WC and they still triumphed. There is really no need to conduct an inquisition on every person who doesn't sing India's praises.

  • Ashok on December 4, 2013, 14:14 GMT

    @Greatest -Game: By nature the grass surface in England is always green unless we suddenly have a long dry spell. So the grass may have been cut short but the grass is always green in England. The ball was bouncing over the waist level from all Seamers at least 40% of the time. Indian batsmen coped with the bouncing ball very well. The present leader in the ODI is Kohli because he can adjust his batting as needed. Dhawan. Rohit Sharma are equally good. With Dhoni the best finisher in the ODI, the mind playing games of the Media will not cow down the Indian batting talent.If the Indian bowling can bowl a decent length & direction, I cannot see Indians losing the series - SA bouncy pitches & All! The fear mongering tactics will not work because it is a team which can rise up to challenge. Although SA is playing on their home turf, they are well below India in world ODI ranking. SA is also fresh from their series loss to Pakistan within last fortnight! So figure it out who will do better

  • Siddesh on December 4, 2013, 14:00 GMT

    If India can win ODI.. they def can win Test also. SA has almost the same team for ODI and Test.. only Red ball is the concern.. But India can negotiate SA attack. A

  • Prafulla on December 4, 2013, 13:42 GMT

    The ODI Series will be good contest between On high- Indians and trying to make ammends to records- Proteas. Proteas has never been happy hunting ground for Indians and this is good opportunity to get on roll against the consistent Styne remover. Its going to be a good contest between strong Proteas bowling line up against unproven batting line (in South Africa) of India and the vice versa. Let the better team win on the given day.Let Cricket win...

  • RAJARAMAN on December 4, 2013, 13:16 GMT

    @Iceman29 ... Yuvraj and Raina are not in test team ... their ODI form needs no worry ... both will shine ... India will win the ODI series ... about tests we don't know yet ... but if India is at least competitive, we can then bank on the choking behaviour of proteas to come to India's rescue

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