Twenty20 internationals (3): India 0, South Africa 2
One-day internationals (5): India 2, South Africa 3
Test matches (4): India 3, South Africa 0
This tour hardly needed hype, but there were some pretty good ingredients nonetheless: revenge, status, and a proud unbeaten record. The former BCCI president Narayanaswami Srinivasan's unilateral decision to slash India's last visit to South Africa, in 2013-14, from a full tour to the bare bones of two Tests and three one-day internationals still left a bitter taste. India were fired up too. Virat Kohli's demonstrative love of Test cricket made a refreshing change from M. S. Dhoni's apparent indifference, and he spoke often in the lead-up about the importance of toppling the best team in the world, and ending South Africa's eight-year record of 15 consecutive unbeaten series away from home, stretching back to 2007 in Pakistan.
And when they did end it, with a victory in the Third Test at Nagpur as emphatic as in the First at Mohali, Kohli could not disguise his anger that so much attention was focused on the pitch, which offered spectacular turn for the spinners from about half an hour after the toss. His emotions understandably clouded his judgment, for the surface demanded scrutiny; that some of it was ill-informed, and based on even stronger emotions, was unfortunate. Kohli grew frustrated, and team director Ravi Shastri stroppy.
The majority of the media, including the Indian contingent, were critical of the ploy of preparing a dry and broken surface, but it was the flurry of social-media sarcasm from former players, notably Australians and Englishmen watching from afar, which set Shastri off. "To hell with five-day Tests," he ranted. The South Africans, meanwhile, stuck to their pre-tour pledge and didn't murmur a word of dissent, even through gritted teeth. But for four days of rain in Bangalore, they knew they could easily have been whitewashed.
India's victories in the First and Third Tests were both achieved inside three days, just like their previous three home Tests, way back in 2013 (two against West Indies, one against Australia). Since 1950, when all Tests have been scheduled for four or more days, no side had previously enjoyed more than three successive three-day home wins. It was no great surprise that India utilised home advantage - most countries do - but they did so to a rare extreme.
They also batted, bowled and fielded better than South Africa, a simple fact easily forgotten amid the bluster. But, rightly or wrongly, there was no semblance of the fair contest between bat and ball (which many irate South Africans and self-proclaimed Test purists seemed to think was enshrined in some constitution). After the Third Test, match referee Jeff Crowe reported the Nagpur pitch as poor, and the BCCI appealed against his verdict. Two weeks later that was rejected by the ICC, and both the board and the Vidarbha Cricket Association received an official warning.
It left some tricky questions. Do the BCCI have a responsibility to care about anything other than the result? Can India, who were helped considerably by winning all four tosses, win series abroad - particularly in England, Australia and South Africa - with such an approach on home soil? That said, in the final Test at Delhi they showed they could still prevail on more traditional pitches.
Emotional or not, Kohli was right to be frustrated, because there were some outstanding performances from his players. Conditions may have been helpful, but it would be harsh to place an asterisk next to the figures of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (Man of the Series for his 31 wickets at 11) and slow left-armer Ravindra Jadeja (23 at ten). Even Amit Mishra's moderate leg-spin collected seven wickets at 17. The trio accounted for all but eight of the South African wickets claimed by Indian bowlers.
Only four half-centuries were scored in the first three Tests, two of them by A. B. de Villiers, a statistic bandied around by some of the South Africans as justification for their inadequacy. "It's not only us who have struggled," said the captain and coaches, missing the point that cricket isn't about scoring fifties or hundreds, but scoring more runs than your opponents. India tidied that one up anyway, when Ajinkya Rahane made a century in each innings at Delhi.
Kohli added 88 in one of the most fluent innings of the series, and became the first captain to lift the new Freedom Trophy, dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. It was all a far cry from the high-quality entertainment served up during the preceding limited-overs matches, in which - contrary to predictions - South Africa prevailed in both formats. The 50-over series went down to the last game in Mumbai, where three South Africans smashed centuries in a total of 438, to the undisguised fury of that man Shastri.
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