Poster Boys Blown Away In African Storm
Whenever a subcontinent team (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) has flown across oceans to play competitive cricket, they’ve never been rated as firm favourite first up. However, in recent times, this notion has changed drastically. The credit to this goes to team India as they’ve tasted success in alien conditions time and again, though not that consistently in the last 10 years. Although, critics still believe that they are lions at home and cubs abroad, the fact is that they emerge as the only team from the subcontinent that can challenge the teams abroad. The reason being the way they play their cricket at home and the fight that they have shown abroad. Yes, the consistency factor is missing but the hopes, belief and trust that they have created and earned in all these years with sheer performance make them a truly competitive side.
With this same belief and confidence, Men in Blue flew to The Rainbow nation (South Africa) to play ODIs and a Test series. Hoping to give the hosts a tough fight, sneak a series win, do justice to the expectations of their fans and to their No. 1 ranking the Blue Brigade took on the mighty South Africans in their own den. Rated as the No. 1 side in ODIs, a lot was expected from this young and dynamic Team India. The poster boys from the subcontinent, coming from six consecutive series wins, having performed in different parts of the world, were looking to be at the top of their game. Many experts and pundits of the game predicted an even contest in the limited over cricket. Rightly so, as the form of these players has shown, even the Proteas legends were backing team India to perform well.
The Africans were a worried and nervous lot with their own form as they were beaten by another subcontinent team—Pakistan—in their den just days before the India series. For India, the South African series was one such pit stop that was going to test the mettle of their star-studded batting line up and talented seamers. This is India’s unconquered territory. India has lost every single series played against the Proteas in the Rainbow Nation ever since their readmission in ICC since 1992.
Amid all this hype and expectation, the tour of the Rainbow Nation is underway from December 5 in Johannesburg. The ‘Bullring’ pitch has the reputation of bounce and pace and the Indians do not have any record to show there. Though, the last they played there, they had beaten the Proteas by 1 run but it has never been a happy hunting ground for them. However, Captain Cool won the toss and decided to bowl first in the series opener at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. It seemed in the Rainbow Nation, Team India would find colours from the start. But, soon the rainbow colours disappear and the Pink brigade gave the Men in Blue a lot of ‘Blues’.
No one could understand that on a pitch that had offered a lot to seam bowlers, how the Indian bowlers struggled to make a breakthrough until 150 runs. The Pink brigade took toll of the toothless Indian bowling and piled up more than 350 runs. The trio of Quinton de Kock (135), AB De Villiers (77) and JP Duminy (59*) pulverised the young Indian bowlers hitting them in all corners of the park at will. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the master of swing with a reputation of providing the breakthroughs, failed to get a wicket. Mohit, known for his tight line and length went for 82 in his allotted quota without dismissing a single batsman. The pick of the bowlers was Shami Ahmed with his 3 scalps as he somewhat reduced South Africa to 350 odd. Spinners too failed to web their magic as DeVilliers and Co. pounced on every opportunity and at times created some on their own.
Much like against Australia, the Indian fans had expected another successful chase. But, with the conditions and the presence of world`s No.1 fast bowler in Tests in their ranks, the Proteas exposed the Indian batsmen’s inability to cope with pace, swing and bounce in adverse conditions. The prolonged pace attack of South Africa came out all guns blazing and bowled the visitors out for 217 in just over 40 overs. Right from beginning of the chase, the Indian openers found it difficult to score even singles. Steyn and Morkel bowled in the right channels to get the desired bounce along with pace and swung the ball both ways consistently.
If the first match was bad, the second was even worse for the visitors. With significant changes to their bowling attack and the inclusion of Ajinkya Rahane in place of Yuvraj in middle order, the Indians were looking to level the series at Durban. The Proteas made a change as well and strengthened their pace attack by including Vernon Philander in place of Wayne Parnell. Apart from the dress of Proteas nothing seemed to have changed in that match either. Winning the toss second successive time, Dhoni invited the hosts to bat first again. The Proteas openers in their usual Green put up 194 for the first wicket this time. Both scored their respective tons. However, Indian bowlers were able to chip away with wickets this time and restricted them to under 300, it was already a mammoth target on the board for India to chase.
The game was gone even before the mandatory power play was over. The poster boys lost four quick wickets for 34 runs inside the first 10 overs. It was close to impossible for Men in Blue to come back from there and by the start of second power play India lost the game by 134 runs. For a brief moment, the rain gods were smiling on the Indians but soon the rainbow appeared for South Africa in the Rainbow Nation. The trio of Steyn, Tsotsobe and Morkel shared nine Indian wickets between them and bowled the visitors out for less than 150 in just 35.1 overs.
The rain god though did smile on India in the third ODI and saved them from the humiliation of a whitewash. It was another lame effort with the ball by the visitors as they allowed the Africans to reach 300. Hosts were struggling at 28-3 before DeVilliers and de Kock put up 171 runs for fourth wicket. Both went on to score their respective tons as de Kock becomes only the fifth player in the history of ODIs to score three consecutive tons, this elite list also includes the skipper DeVilliers. Not only that, de Kock also broke the record for most runs in a bilateral three-match series. It was a mix of ordinary bowling and poor fielding by India as they dropped quite a few catches. It was a perfect tribute to Madiba (Nelson Mandela) as this entire series is now dedicated to him. As the ODI series is gone now, the focus of India must be now on the upcoming Test series.
By Sorabh Aggarwal