Series Review

Lessons from the India-South Africa ODI series

South Africa were the well deserved winners of the tightly contested ODI series with India. This is because in Steyn, Morkel and Tsotsobe, they had three bowlers who were on top of their game and dominated the Indian batsmen barring the likes of Kohli and Pathan. In the batting department, Amla and Duminy got the runs when it mattered, and the fielding was better than the opposition’s (as expected). On the other hand, India relied on Kohli to put runs on the board, and if it wasn’t for two scorching Pathan knocks, the scoreline could have looked even worse. The bowling ranged from disciplined to non-threatening, and ultimately the home team managed to put the touring side away, destroying any Indian hopes of a historic series win.

  • Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma justified their non-selections for the World Cup with their continued non performances, despite umpteen opportunities. They are a select band of cricketers, who seem to do well only in the IPL and will be pleased that the 4th edition is coming on the heels of the World Cup.
  • On the other hand, Parthiv Patel continues to impress in the limited opportunities that he gets, despite not making any substantial scores. He deserves to be India’s 2nd choice keeper.
  • Sachin Tendulkar figured in all of two ODIs and looked stable without threatening to make a big score. Calm before the storm, perhaps?

  • Along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli will be expected to form the backbone of the Indian middle order in the years to come, given his proclivity for standing tall amidst the ruins of batting collapses. Before the series, it was a question of whether Kohli can be accommodated in a line-up of big hitters during the World Cup; now, the question is as to which batting position he should hold.
  • Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni were big disappointments, failing to muster even hundred runs in the series. India can only imagine the state of the series, if they had fired. If they maintain this kind of form over the next two months, India can kiss their chances of winning a World Cup at home, goodbye.
  • While Kohli played himself into the WC playing XI, Suresh Raina has played himself out of it. Once, he was considered the trump card for the tournament, but with the emergence of Pathan and a dip in form and confidence, it is hard to see him being picked ahead of the other contenders.

  • Yusuf Pathan was India’s biggest positive of the series. Despite scoring a thrilling century against New Zealand in the last ODI series, it remained to be seen whether he could reprise these kind of performances against tougher oppositions and in foreign conditions. In a series where he scored two violent innings taking India to victory once and nearly there in the other one, he cleared all doubts and looks set for a big tournament at home.
  • As is the case most often these days, Harbhajan Singh didn’t end the series with a bucket-load of wickets; but he did exert a modicum of control over the batsmen, who seemed hesitant to attack him. If he can transfer this aggressive bowling to the World Cup, India’s chances are much brighter. Finest moment in the series, was helping India to a win at Cape Town – with the bat.
  • Once again, Zaheer Khan was India’s finest bowler in the series. He led the attack well and his mental hold over Grame Smith is as amusing as it is predictable. Along with Pathan, he gave India hope at Centurion. Might have a handy role with the bat at the WC, as well.
  • India’s leading wicket taker was, surprisingly Munaf Patel. With 11 wickets at an average of 18.72, he might just have booked his slot in the playing XI at the WC. Discipline, accuracy and a knack of picking wickets at crucial moments are all valuable assets in pressure situations; and he might yet star in the next two months.
  • After a stellar 2010, Ashish Nehra has been off-color in ODIs since the NZ series. Like Harbhajan, his finest moment came with the bat in Cape Town, but it is his bowling which is under scrutiny. With the good performance of Munaf and Dhoni’s reliance on Praveen Kumar as an ODI specialist, Nehra faces a stiff contest to figure in the playing XI in the WC.
  • An interesting choice for the 15th spot in the WC squad, Piyush Chawla did nothing to justify or rubbish his selection.
  • What is it about Zaheer Khan that Graeme Smith cannot understand? Whatever it is, South Africa will hope that he sorts it out before their clash against India in the World Cup. Otherwise, he had a middling series with just one fifty and will hope to sign off as captain, in glory at the WC.
  • He might be of Indian origin, but Hashim Amla has no qualms about scoring plenty against them as he rounded off another ODI series as the leading run-getter. Going into the World Cup, he will be one of South Africa’s main weapons and it will be a delight to follow him over the next two months.
  • Colin Ingram and David Miller were two players I was looking forward to following more closely, but they couldn’t even last till the end after disappointing in the first half of the series. In Miller’s case, he was not even selected for the World Cup, while Ingram might have just lost his slot in the playing XI to Du Plessis. Still, I believe that Ingram will be one of the players for the future.
  • Morne van Wyk had just two games to make a name for himself, and he grabbed his opportunity with a valuable fifty in the decider, which might see him slot in to the playing XI next month. He is what Ravi Shastri would call a ‘busy’ cricketer with aggressive strokes while batting and lots of bustling on the field. He could become a critical component of South Africa’s World Cup campaign.
  • AB de Villiers capped off a disappointing summer against the Indians with an average of just over 22 in the ODIs. I still maintain that he is going to be one of the players to watch in the World Cup, but he sure does have to regain his mojo fast.
  • Faf du Plessis made a bright entry in international cricket with a fine looking fifty, but after that didn’t really bother the scorers much. With the ball, he looked decent enough without being threatening; but it is a safe bet that he will figure in the starting XI next month.
  • He might have lost his spot in the Test XI but JP Duminy is still going strong in the ODIs. Apart from Amla, he has been the most consistent bat for the Saffers, and his off-spin is a valuable asset to have in subcontinental conditions.
  • The almost-million dollar man for the Rajasthan Royals and the ODI skipper in waiting for South Africa, Johan Botha batted at one position too high for him (at no. 7) and still managed to get some crucial runs particularly at Port Elizabeth. With the ball, he was not extraordinary; then again, it is not expected from him. His finest moment – getting Tendulkar out bowled; forgettable moments – getting the violent treatment from his IPL team-mate Pathan, at Cape Town and Centurion.
  • Wayne Parnell and Robin Peterson didn’t impact in any major way, though Parnell definitely made the series memorable by choking at Jo’burg.

  • It is an amazing transformation by Morne Morkel to become a fearsome operator in the shorter formats, which he sucked at for a long time. With a bowling average of just over 11 and economy rate of less than 4, it is safe to say that he dominated the Indian batsmen so much so that they never really got off to a flyer in any of the five games. Only Pathan seemed to know how to handle him, and even he treated Morkel with more respect than he did with other bowlers. It will be interesting, though to see how he will fare in the subcontinent.

  • Like Munaf Patel, L Tsotsobe (aka Lopsy) was the surprise leading wicket taker for his side, and for the whole series with 13 scalps at 13.53. Over the course of this summer, he has earned a lot of respect from his opposition and a lot of love from the home supporters. He could turn out to be a game changer at the WC if he can adjust to the subcontinental pitches quickly.
  • Dale Steyn was outshone by Morkel and Tsotsobe in this series, but by no means was he inferior to them. His economy rate of under 4 shows a man who is in control of his skill, and it was clear that he had a mental hold over the Indian batsmen. He will still remain as the speedster to watch, at World Cup 2011 and how he fares could determine how far South Africa will progress in the tourney.

As you can see, this series was all about how the two teams were shaping up for the big one – World Cup 2011. India might have lost the series, but as Dhoni said, the emergence of Pathan as a reliable allrounder and the disciplined bowling at the death were the two major positives, keeping the World Cup in mind. I wouldn’t be too worried about the batting – the return of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir will inspire confidence in the middle order, who in any case will regain their form upon setting their sights on familiar pitches. As for South Africa, I’m not too convinced about their middle and lower order. Botha is batting way too high and du Plessis/van Wyk will have tougher tests against better bowling attacks. The inconsistent form of Smith and de Villiers will also be a worry. What will give them a lot of confidence is the way the bowlers and Amla/Duminy are shaping up. All in all, I still consider them to be one of the favorites for the Cup. After all, they did win two deciding ODIs against Pakistan and India and might have just laid the dreaded C word to rest!

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Lessons from the Castle Lager Test series in South Africa

  • Gautam Gambhir: Everyone knew Gambhir has been a brilliant opener for India at home and abroad against weaker teams; but the question was how he would fare in Tests against tougher opponents in countries like England, Australia and South Africa. He took a big step towards answering that by performing creditably in the two games he played. He faced the might of Steyn and Morkel at their furious best, and survived to ensure that India would walk away with a share of the series spoils. Dravid might be out of the team soon, but in Gambhir, India has a batsman who can battle through the tough times to see them through.
  • Virender Sehwag: Possibly, the biggest disappointment of the series. There was big anticipation for the clash between him and Steyn, but there was no contest really. In conditions favorable to the bowlers and against a pumped up pace attack, Sehwag could only manage 144 runs in the series at an average of 24 and a shockingly low SR of 70.24! He will be keen to put this series behind him and come out, all guns blazing in the World Cup at home.
  • Rahul Dravid: In an earlier time, Dravid against this attack and in these conditions would have seen a couple of marathon knocks atleast. Instead, all we got was the sad sight of seeing him struggle to get 120 runs at a SR of 33 and a highest score of 43. He played his part in saving India on the last day of the series, but there is no doubt, that the end is near for a wonderful career.

  • Sachin Tendulkar: In a series featuring the two top teams in the world, it was appropriate that there was a shoot-out for the best batsman in the world today, as well. Tendulkar might not have scored the amount of runs that Kallis did, but his performance was equally awe inspiring. In the first Test, he instilled self belief in the rest of the batsmen over the course of scoring a 50th Test ton, and at Newlands he faced one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling one will ever see, and came out with an innings which made sure that India were on level terms with South Africa. After 21 years in International cricket, there is no end to his gluttonous appetite for runs.
  • VVS Laxman: In a year featuring many classics from this man, the 96 he scored in the second innings of the 2nd Test was perhaps the most important of them all. In the company of the tail, he rescued his team from a precarious situation and gave them a total to defend. In the process, he helped them secure one of their most memorable wins in Test cricket. Its time, India and the rest of the world treasure his batting skills for as long as he is around.
  • Cheteshwar Pujara: It was always expecting too much from Pujara, to face the likes of Steyn and Morkel in their own backyard and come up trumps. Still, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In the second innings at Durban, he played the most important innings of his brief career so far and weathered the bowlers for close to one and a half hours while giving Laxman valuable support. He would have learnt a lot from this tour and still remains an exciting prospect for the future.
  • MS Dhoni: He came within one wicket of securing his most famous series win yet, but Dhoni will take the eventual scoreline. After all, he has yet to lose a test series as captain. As a captain, his tactics were criticized and his handling of Sreesanth was also open to debate; but as a batsman, he did a decent job and as a keeper, he was safe without being spectacular. This series might have got away, but he can look forward to England and Australia with confidence.
  • Harbhajan Singh: It has been quite a while since he topped the bowling charts for India, and Harbhajan will be satisfied with his performance after receiving a lot of stick from fans and media alike, prior to the series. At Durban, he hastened South Africa’s demise in the first innings; and at Cape Town, he gave India its best shot at a series win. In the end it was not to be, but for once he starred with the ball, rather than with the bat.
  • Zaheer Khan: He was sorely missed at Centurion, and on return at Durban he made his presence felt. He might not have the speed of Steyn or bounce of Morkel, but he has plenty of guile and variations to make up for it. Once again, he had the wood over Graeme Smith so much that Smith asked his opening partner to take first strike against him. He faded ever so slightly on the 4th day at Cape Town, which allowed Kallis and co to take command; but overall, he led the attack very well, and will be a vital weapon for India in 2011.
  • I Sharma: While Zaheer and Sreesanth featured in the news throughout the series, Ishant had a relatively quiet series. A horror match at Centurion was followed by a modest one at Durban and he finished the series with another quiet performance at Cape Town. These were conditions tailor-made for him, but he was thwarted by some good batting and his own indiscipline. Still has problems with no-balls, and I have no idea why Eric Simons has still not found a remedy for that.

  • S Sreesanth: There’s something about South Africa that brings out the best and worst in Sreesanth. One moment, he is bowling vicious snorters to get rid of one of the best batsmen in the world; and the next, he is in trouble with the opposing captain, his own captain, the match refree and the crowd – all for his behavior. He is supposed to be an experienced bowler for India by now, but he is more of an enfant terrible at the moment. He has the talent, but can he maintain his focus in 2011?
  • Raina, Vijay and Unadkat: None of them grabbed the opportunities that came their way, and they have only themselves to blame for that.
  • Graeme Smith: A poor series with the bat, where he could not kick on to make big scores; was more in the news for his poor track record against Zaheer and clash with Sreesanth. Before the series, he made comments alluding that India cannot be considered top dog if they can’t win in South Africa. Forget India, he will do well to remember that South Africa has not won in South Africa for the last three series. By his standards, that’s not the stuff of champions either.
  • Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince: Apart from a good innings here and there, did not do much to put their detractors at bay.
  • Hashim Amla: The bearded one had a modest series by his standards. He resumed his love affair with the Indian bowling at Centurion by scoring a century, had a quiet match at Durban, and scored a rapid fire 50 at Newlands before succumbing to a self described ‘sugar rush’. Still, he was the third highest run getter in the series, and he looks in the best of touch. Yousuf might be fading away, but another bearded batting master is taking his place.

  • Jacques Kallis: In a long and distinguished career, Kallis has played some important knocks against top quality bowlers in demanding conditions; but I doubt that any of his previous innings would have given him as much satisfaction as the one he played on the 4th day at Newlands. South Africa was in trouble at 130/6, when he played a vital innings which was as painful (due to injury) as it was gutsy. This was following the century he had scored in the 1st innings to get South Africa to a challenging score. Fair to say, if it wasn’t for him, India would be toasting a historic victory now. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate run-out and a ripper of a delivery, there is no saying what the eventual result could have been. Along with Tendulkar, he proved that age doesn’t matter when you are in a purple patch for as long as anyone can remember, and ignited a debate as to who the better batsman is. Ponting can only look over, with envy. Oh, did I mention that he scored his first ever double century at Centurion?
  • AB De Villiers: Like Amla, he started brilliantly at Centurion with a bruising ton which deflated the Indians, but couldn’t sustain the form for the rest of the series. He was a surprise disappointment of the series.
  • Mark Boucher: If it wasn’t for his fighting half century in the 2nd innings at Cape Town, this could have been his last Test for South Africa. Instead, along with his long time friend and accomplice, he took the game away from India in true gritty manner. If it does prove to be his final innings, he would have signed off in typical style.
  • Paul Harris and L Tsotsobe: While Harris was ineffectual as expected, Tsotsobe was the surprise package. While they were on the look for respite from Steyn and Morkel, Tsotsobe rarely released the pressure, and only uncharacteristic dropped catches prevented him from getting more wickets. He held a phenomenal catch at Centurion to boot.
  • M Morkel: Along with Steyn, great things were expected of him before the series. While Steyn stole the headlines, Morkel did his part. After routing the Indians in the first innings at Centurion, he handed over the honors to Steyn for the rest of the series. He continued to bruise the Indians with his awkward bounce and ended up as the 2nd leading wicket taker in the series. If this was supposed to be a contest between the world’s best batsmen and the world’s best pace attack, there is no doubt who was the winner.

  • D Steyn: While two batting legends set about enhancing their reputations and breaking new ground, there was only one bowling legend in this series. If anyone had any doubts as to the greatness of Steyn, they should watch his bowling in the 3rd Test at Cape Town. Speed, swing, accuracy…he had it all. He had some of the world’s best batsmen at his mercy, and it was only his presence which forbade the Indians to entertain any hopes of chasing down 340 to win. He ended the series as the leading wicket taker with 21 wickets and an average of just above 17. He single handedly nullified the Sehwag threat, and along with Morkel established themselves as the top bowling pair in cricket, without a doubt. Now, only if he could replicate this form in the shorter formats…

Overall, for the third successive time a contest between these two sides has ended in a fair stalemate. It may not compare to the Ashes in terms of history and prestige, but for the pure joy of watching top quality, competitive cricket, this is one clash always worth looking forward to.

Best moment of the series:

Quote of the series:

We’ll need two goats to feed on this grassy pitch.

Harbhajan Singh, that delightful pitch expert, comes up with a novel idea to make the Kingsmead track more batsman-friendly

For my review of the Ashes, click here