Too Much Spice, Not Very Nice

The India-South Africa series has all but come to an end and for the Proteas the marathon 72-day tour of the subcontinent could not have ended sooner, or on a more sour note.  After victories in the ceremonial 20- and 50-over limited overs series it was time to change into whites and really knuckle down.  History will record a one-sided series win for the hosts and considering that the tourists were bundled out for 214 on day one in Bengaluru with the home side closing on 80/0, who knows what the final series scoreline could have been.

It is my assessment that the Indians only really won the fourth and final Test in Delhi.  The two victories that handed Virat Kohli’s charges an unassailable series lead were hollow with four innings producing just three scores of more than 185.  Some might turn around and say it was simply two bowlers’ tracks that were prepared but when even the International Cricket Council declares an Indian pitch as “poor” then you know it has to be true.

In Mohali India scored 201 and 200 while bowling the visitors out for 184 and 109.  The longest innings lasted 75.3 overs.  In Nagpur the longest innings lasted 89.5 overs as the away side attempted desperately, but ultimately in vain, to save themselves from inevitable defeat.  The top score in in that match was 215.

To further enforce where I am going with this consider the following from the previous 31 Tests played in India before the Freedom Trophy.  Only one of the them did not include at least one century – the Delhi Test against Australia, early in 2013, a game which broke a run of 28 consecutive Tests featuring a hundred, 16 of which contained three or more centuries.  Thirty of the 31 Tests had contained at least four 50-plus scores; the other had two centuries and a fifty.  

The first three Tests of this series brought no centuries; there were only three fifties in the first Test, and none in the third.  The Nagpur Test produced a top score of 40 – the second-lowest top score in a completed Test since 1890.

These pitches were prepared so heavily in favour of the bowlers, particularly spin bowlers, that the batsmen hardly stood a chance.  Consider the poor totals posted by the Indians as motivation for that statement.  There is of course the counter-argument suggesting that it is the same for both sides.  Yes, that is certainly true and while Russell Domingo’s charges are worthy of the sympathy card, their cricket at times has let them down.  It has mostly been the batting that has failed to fire but again that is not mostly to do with the dust bowls they have been made to play on.

However the bowlers let the side down in the capital.  South Africa had India 139/6 and 198/7 before allowing them to get away and post 334 in the first innings.  In the second stanza, the hosts were in trouble at 57/4 but got away again to declare on 267/5  

There is much to complain about but one thing that is true is that Dean Elgar, Stiaan Van Zyl, Faf Du Plessis, Dane Vilas, Kyle Abbott, Dane Piedt, Imran Tahir, Simon Harmer and Kagiso Rabada would have gained bucket loads from their first tour of India.  Some will never return, others have a chance and then there are those who could be back for several more tours and they will be all the richer for this experience.

Ahead of the England series starting on Boxing Day in Durban, there is little doubt the Proteas will be more competitive on home soil and fairer, more competitive wickets should be expected.  Nevertheless there are some areas of concern for Domingo like the opening partner for Elgar.  Is Temba Bavuma set to stay there?  Will Van Zyl return?  Is there room for an outsider like the seasoned Andrew Puttick or Stephen Cook?

Also will Dane Vilas be afforded an opportunity in more sporting conditions to prove he can be the country’s number one wicketkeeper-batsmen or will the selectors say, “Sorry you’ve had your turn” and bring back Quinton De Kock?  At least the bowling department does not seem to be an area of concern.  Provided both Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn are 100% fit, competition for places is very healthy as Abbott, Rabada and the tweaking trio of Harmer, Tahir and Piedt have all shown that they can play at this level.  

Let’s look forward to the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy now and put this Indian series behind us.  It was a particularly forgettable series.