Every time India gets thrashed in either Australia or South Africa, the usual suspects are touted as the reason. Our batsman can't bat on fast pitches! They simply can't play the short ball! We need faster pitches in India! Our fast bowlers aren't fast enough or strong enough!
However scratch a bit and you'll find that this is not the case. Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman could bat really well on the toughest of pitches. Virat Kohli made 692 runs in the 2014-15 Australia away series and even in the current South Africa series is the only centurion and that was a 153 to boot.
Our current batsmen no longer fear the short ball but know well how to leave, defend or hit it. They spoil it all by getting out to bad balls.
In the bowling department, we had South Africa on the mat at 12/3 in the first Test and even 95/7 in the second innings. Even in the current Test, South Africa were 3/2 at one stage and Team India simply lost it as South Africa hit out and a series of dropped catches followed even though our fielding had upped quite a bit in the last few years.
We broke the England and West Indies jinx in 1971 winning away series there and since then we've done it twice more in England and thrice more in the West Indies.
Australia and South Africa continue to be jinxes and it takes great mental strength to overcome jinxes.
In 1997 in the third Test of the series at Johannesburg, we set South Africa a stiff target of 356. At 95/7 the match seemed in the bag but as usual the Indian bowlers lost their nerve. South Africa drew the match at 228/8.
When we finally won in a Test in 2006, the celebrations were over the top, some spectators at Johannesburg were alarmed at our behaviour and Team India totally lost focus to get thrashed in the remaining two Tests.
The team was better behaved and disciplined in 2010 and at the eve of the third Test, the series was tied at 1-1. We made a good 364 in the first innings and had South Africa in real trouble at 98-5. South Africa recovered first to 130-6 and then to 341-10 as the match petered out into a draw!
This losing one's nerves when a victory is in sight showed itself in the very next series. In the first Test, India set South Africa a world record victory target of 458. We seemed to have a chance at 197-4, but the Proteas almost won and ended at 450-7!
It was no surprise that we lost the second match and with it the series.
If we never had a chance of winning due to shortage of skills and talent, one can understand, but the amount of times we have been so close to victory is not funny and that points more to a lack of mental strength rather than anything else.
In fact the worst case of nerves probably happened in 2014 at Wellington. Batting second, New Zealand needed 246 to avoid an innings defeat. At 94-5 that seemed very likely. But the Kiwis ended up at 680/8! One can't think of any such meltdown by any team in the past!
Even in the first Test at Auckland, we couldn't chase a target of 407 even though we were at 324-6 at one stage. That's just like us being 277-4 at one stage chasing 364 and then crashing to 315 at Adelaide in the same year.
Team India's mental frailness was realized by John Wright who brought in sports psychologist Sandy Gordon with spectacular results. Sourav Ganguly's team broke many jinxes including a very first Test series win in Pakistan, but fell apart towards the end.
Greg Chappell brought in Rudi Webster and even that clicked initially before the Chappell-Ganguly spat brought it all down. Such spats also scar Team India's performance, the best example being India crashing in the final of ICC Champions Trophy of 2017 despite being rank favourites thanks to the Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble tiff.
The most successful person at addressing this problem was coach Gary Kirsten who brought in a permanent mental conditioning coach in the form of Paddy Upton. He was probably the most successful and his tenure ended with the 2011 World Cup victory.
After that Team India has had a very patchy record with mental conditioning and whatever the BCCI has tried seems to have fallen flat. Of course the BCCI scheduling doesn't even help matters.
After the 2011 World Cup win, Team India found no time to celebrate and headed straight to IPL to crash soon after. Another crash is happening now. Instead of sending the team early to South Africa and getting 3-4 practice matches, the BCCI squeezed in a totally unnecessary Sri Lanka series and that severely affected preparations.
"Fatigue" is a great dampener to "mental strength" and is an issue which Team India keeps facing from time to time. The much mentally tougher Aussies face no such issues.
Sure they have been whitewashed too, but at their peak, they can roll on with victory upon victory for years on end.
In 2011-12 we had two 0-4 Test whitewashes with England and Australia respectively.
Will we now have three: South Africa (we are already 0-2 down), England and Australia?
The alarm bells are ringing and it's time the BCCI did something about it.