India in South Africa, 2013-14 December 30, 2013

India's batsmen deserve better fast-bowling support

India have shown they have the batting to win series overseas if they can find fit, robust and skillful fast bowlers

Rahane, Jadeja finds of the tour

On paper, India didn't win anything on this tour. They lost the ODI series 2-0, and would most likely have lost the third match had rain not interrupted. They lost the Test series 1-0. Between the end of the ODIs and the end of the Tests, though, India gained a lot. They showed they could compete against South Africa in South Africa. They pushed the world's best Test side, which had two world-class allrounders in Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, to its absolute limit in Johannesburg. They showed they have the batting to win overseas Tests if they can find fit, robust and skillful fast bowlers.

The same had been the case with the Indian team for the last 10 years, but there were doubts now that the big batsmen were gone. This young batch, though, showed that the batting is in safe hands. Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were the shining lights. Back in 1996-97, when Rahul Dravid came to South Africa for his first tour, Sachin Tendulkar told him he would have done well if he could get 250 runs. That was a three-Test series. In this two-match fling, Pujara, Kohli and Rahane have managed 280, 272 and 209 respectively. M Vijay did his job too as an opener, seeing off the new ball with commendable discipline, but he will be disappointed he didn't convert one of those innings into a big hundred.

It is not all about the runs, though. It is the manner they were scored in. The likes of Dravid and Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman took about three-four tours to display the kind of maturity, awareness and comfort with their own games that Pujara, Kohli and Rahane have shown here. There were no crazy counterattacks or unorthodox hitting. This was proper Test-match batting, minimising the risks, against the world's deadliest bowlers. None of the three looked scarred or scared. There will be concerns about Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, but they must be given time to work on their games and come back tighter.

What will bother India more, though, is that there was no contribution from No. 7 onwards. MS Dhoni is conscious of his shortcomings when outside Asia, and he has been working on them - he was practising with the red ball even during the ODIs - but he will be the first to admit he needs to do more. He has had a few important contributions outside Asia in the past, but will need to be more consistent over the next year if he is to match up with other number sevens around the world.

After the series, Dhoni admitted that the lower order was a problem, and that it would take them time to start contributing the way they used to when India were No. 1. Zaheer Khan will have to immediately start batting like he did in the second innings - more than an hour of getting behind the line of the ball - as opposed to what he did in the first - a golden duck to a wild heave from as far away from the line of the ball as he could be.

R Ashwin provides India solid hope coming in at No. 8, but he will now have to compete for that sole spinner's position with Ravindra Jadeja, who has been another big gain for India. He bowled 58.3 overs in an innings for his six wickets even as South Africa batted comfortably against the rest of the bowlers. He will definitely be part of India's plans when they play the first Test in new Zealand, in Auckland on February 6. It doesn't make Ashwin a bad bowler, but it gives India a horses-for-courses option, which is thanks to the trust shown by them in Jadeja.

In Durban, though, Jadeja was left fighting a lone battle. On a flat pitch, it needed a big effort from India's quicks to save the Test, the kind Dale Steyn put in. It was not to be. Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma were knackered after their gigantic push for a win in Johannesburg. The intensity was visibly low. Dhoni was so circumspect about them he could have kept bowling with the old ball had they not been forced to take a new one after 146 overs.

In Durban, Jadeja was left fighting a lone battle. On a flat pitch, it needed a big effort from India's quicks to save the Test, the kind Dale Steyn put in. It was not to be. Dhoni was so circumspect about them he could have kept bowling with the old ball had they not been forced to take a new one after 146 overs.

Fast bowling remains India's biggest worry. Zaheer made a stellar comeback in Johannesburg, Shami was excellent with his seam position there, and Ishant tried hard as usual, but they showed they were not as versatile and strong as they needed to be. The statistics have been damning. They might have done better than the numbers suggest, but they couldn't have been much better than averages of 63 (Ishant), 46 (Zaheer) and 44 (Shami).

India will need to look at Zaheer's durability and endurance again, especially if he doesn't offer much with the bat. The big problem is, India don't really have many options. Ishant had to be drafted in because the first choice, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, wasn't going to work on pitches that weren't slow. Shami is surely one for the future, but Ishant will have to deliver a bagful of wickets sooner than later.

India have for long been a batting-dominated team with their superstar batsmen collecting most of the accolades and the blame, but this might not be a bad time to give this new crop of promising batsmen bowlers who will get them 20 wickets. Where they will come from is anybody's guess.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Al on January 4, 2014, 15:44 GMT

    We won't get good pace bowlers because we keep selecting mediocre bowlers like Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Vinay Kumar, Unadkat, etc. There are good bowlers playing in Ranji Trophy - pace bowlers like Pankaj Singh, Imtiaz Ahmed, Sid Kaul, etc. and spinners like Iqbal Abdulla, Parvez Rasool, etc.

  • mo on January 2, 2014, 17:48 GMT

    indian batsmen have done beyond expectation,especily after first series of sachin retirement

  • Altaf on January 2, 2014, 16:39 GMT

    It's too early to judge Jadeja and Rahane findings of the tour. Jadeja was expensive in taking 6 wickets whereas Rahane scored run when result of the match was already decided when India was 174/7. Pujara and Kohli showed in tests that they can be world class in the future. Everyone knows Agarkar scored 100 at Lord's in 2002 or Akash Chopra in Australia in 2003-04 tour or Wasim Jaafar in WI 2006 tour and SA 2006 tour and how far they went then after. Even hits of Australia 2003-04 tour and later Pakistan tour of Irfan Pathan and Balaji are not in picture at all.

  • Android on January 2, 2014, 9:16 GMT

    the reason India didn't win a single match in South Africa is because of the defensive mindset of mahendra singh dhoni. in the ODIs, there was no intent to take wickets, and the same was true in the 2nd test. his statement that he is no Santa Claus is a reflection on his confidence with his bowlers. This bowling attack under the same captain will only yield the same results _ read defeats.

  • santhosh on January 2, 2014, 6:19 GMT

    We have to make fast bowlers and encourage them to bowl at the maximum speed from the young age itself and teach them not to compromise on Speed no matter what happens..And there should be a selection criteria to pick the fast bowlers at national level..the minimum criteria should be they should be able to bowl 140kph+ by the time they hit the domestic level they will be able to learn to swing as well with that speed..We should also look after our current fast bowlers and support them well...this is the only way we can produce good quality fast bowlers...There should be enough assistant in Pitches as well so that our batsmen dont have to be sitting ducks when they travel abroad...

  • Rajesh on January 2, 2014, 6:08 GMT

    Not quite a good assessment by any means... Kohli was good, but not great as the runs show, because he did not face the fire at its prime in all his innings.. He came in when the bowlers were softened by Vijay and Pujara.. Pujara and Rahane were amazing and they are the true shining lights.. Jadeja can no way be termed as a big gain, because he bowled in a pitch assisting spinners, where even part-time spinners like Duminy and Peterson could get easy wickets.. Ashwin can consider himself unlucky for taking the blame as a bowler who is no-good outside India.. He played in Johannesburg where no spinners have ever taken good wickets and criticized unjustly for no-show.. He should have played in Durban, but strangely Dhoni decided to gift it Jadeja.. Dhoni is fast becoming India's version of Darren Sammy, who is no good outside the sub-continent.. Some of his tactics and decisions were quite baffling..

  • Cham on January 2, 2014, 3:55 GMT

    FLAT TRACK BULLIES...... no surprises...... their bowlers are the same. Can only perform at home. Useless in overseas games. 900+ days since the last overseas TEST win huh? wow!

  • Jacob on January 2, 2014, 3:50 GMT

    In the discussion about fast bowlers, people some times forget the fact that test cricket has changed a lot in the last 5 years. With exposure to more limited overs cricket, batsmen play a lot more shots. You may have a fast bowler who can bowl fast, but if he is not accurate, the captain will be forced to take him off the attack after a few overs. Mitchel Johnson had this issue when he used to be wayward. So folks who ask for Umesh, Aaron etc need to bear in mind that a captain may not be able to keep them on for long spells if they are not accurate. And batsmen will target them. The last thing you want is to take a bowler in who just bleeds runs. So these so called fast bowlers of the future need to improve or India should keep looking for a new crop.

  • Vidyadhar on January 2, 2014, 0:36 GMT

    I agree that Dhoni is not the ideal captain. He as a leader has to be able to get the best of the resources on hand. He clearly shows his pacers , he has no confidence. He does not seem to inspire them. Bowling with a ball over 100 overs old is proof enough for me. Shows a defeatist mentality. In India the spinners have to just toss it up and have the surface do its tricks. In conditions abroad the spinners need more RPMs to be halfway effective. Kumble was the only exception. Dhoni please go now.

  • Sanjay on January 1, 2014, 23:10 GMT

    Nice article pointing out many issues. Dhoni outside India is unfortunately not a threat with batting in test cricket. The stats clearly provde this. Ashwin is the same with his bowling and it is hard to understand why a player with his height can't get drift and bounce on tracks outside his comfort zone. Need to seriously look to see if he is worthwhile outside home conditions. The fast bowling continues to disappoint. Shami is for the future. They should work with B Kumar, Yadav and Varun Aaron and build a group of young fast bowlers. Ishant and Zaheer Khan are not going to be long term. The results have clearly demonstrated that. Bowlers win you test matches. India unfortunately don't have ones that can do it away from home.

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