India lost the first two Tests of the South African tour and were 187 all out in the third Test. Fans must have started thinking of 2011’s 0-8 Test series whitewash especially since we were heading to both England and Australia after that.
But after that Team India affected one of the greatest turnarounds ever and won 8 of the remaining 10 international matches in a country that could be described as its toughest ever. So in the end, for many reasons it was India’s greatest tour of South Africa ever… Two series wins in a month!
From 1992-2017, India won exactly zero bilateral series on South African soil. (That’s not counting the one-off T20s) That includes seven Test series and six ODI ones. However in the month of February itself, India won two: both in ODIs and international T20s.
While we won three off T20s in 2006, 2007 and 2011, this was the first proper T20 series in South Africa featuring three matches. Incidentally, we have now won every T20 series featuring 3 matches…
3-0 versus Australia in Australia in 2016. (Their only whitewash featuring 3 more matches in an international series in any format in their history)
2-1 versus Sri Lanka at home in 2016.
2-1 versus Zimbabwe at home in 2016.
2-1 versus England at home in 2017.
2-1 versus New Zealand at home in 2017.
3-0 versus Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka in 2017. (That was part of a 9-0 tour whitewash)
With the South African tour, it’s 7/7 and that’s some impressive record!
The ODI score line was unprecedented.
While not many expected us to win the ODI series, we did it so convincingly. For South Africa to get thrashed 1-5 at home is quite unprecedented for them. In fact in the only match we watched, it was hampered by rain and South Africa won by Duckworth-Lewis. In terms of full 50-over a side matches, it was a 5-0 whitewash. That’s rare for the formidable Proteas. They may choke in World Cup semi-finals, but in bilateral series they are usually formidable. At Durban we won by 6 wickets, at Centurion by 9 wickets, at Cape Town by 124 runs, at Port Elizabeth by 73 runs and Centurion again by 8 wickets. That is some demolition and even Bangladesh gives a much tougher fight nowadays.
Spinners in South Africa?
While batsmen and at least one fast bowler usually do shine in overseas victories very rarely does a spinner make an impact and this time it was two wrist spinners! Kuldeep Yadav took 17 wickets and Yuzvendra Chahal 16 for a total of 33, unprecedented in an ODI series outside the sub-continent.
53 South African wickets fell, so the new spin twins took 62% of the wickets. No other bowler on both sides could take more than 8 wickets. In fact the Indian bowlers had the best economy rates on both sides: Jasprit Bumrah (3.97), Kuldeep (4.62), Hardik Pandya (4.9) and Chahal (5.02). The fast bowlers came of age
Another unprecedented thing for us in the final Test at Johannesburg was us playing fast bowlers in a match. Team India usually struggles to have five fit fast bowlers in the entire squad. That paid dividends as we got all 20 wickets: Bumrah got 7, Mohammed Shami 6, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4 and Ishant Sharma 3. Hardik went wicket-less and Vidarbha Express Umesh Yadav had to watch from the sidelines!
We also took 60 wickets in the Test series, only the third time we have managed to do so in a 3-Test series. The fast bowlers picked up 50 of those wickets. We first did it in England in 1986 and Sri Lanka in 2015. So this team has already done it twice!
Bhuvi carried his form well into the T20 format and was the man-of-the-series after becoming the man-of-the-match in the first and third T20s.
King Kohli does it again
What is it about Virat Kohli, who can do absolutely no wrong? In the Test series he scored the most runs on both sides, but was a real revelation in the ODI format. In the series he scored 558 runs at an average of 186 with three centuries. Those are the best statistics ever for an ODI series. You just can’t keep him down and he could well end up as an all-time great in all three formats.
Our batsmen no longer fear the bouncers
This was another revelation. Traditionally Indian batsmen are the worst players of the bouncers and look totally unsettled when faced by a barrage. They lose the psychological battle and subsequently the match.
For the last few years Indian batsmen have been getting better and better at facing the short ball but this was the most positive series. It’s a great sight to see Indian batsmen go after the short ball and on many an occasion they manage to connect and find the boundary. We even beat them in fielding!
That one was a surprise. From the third Test onwards the Indians out-batted and out-bowled the South Africans and they out-fielded them too! It all fell apart for the Proteas by the end of the tour. In the last T20s, the South Africans were dropping catches and misfielding simple balls and letting them go past the boundary.
In the end India did it without Kohli
While India has become quite dependent on Kohli we still manage to do well without him. In the 2017 Australia Test series, we were tied at 1-1 when Kohli missed the final Test. Ajinkya Rahane captained us to a series win.
Recently Kohli missed the Sri Lanka ODI series too and Rohit Sharma captained us to a series win and slammed his third ODI double century too: This after we got massacred in the first ODI.
The last match of the series was also a crucial one and Kohli missed that too. South Africa won the Test series and India the ODI one. The T20 series was tied at 1-1 and so whoever would win the final match would win 2 series to 1 and get the bragging rights. Rohit captained us to victory.
Now Rohit also captains us for Nidahas Twenty20 Tri-Series in Sri Lanka that also features Bangladesh. Rohit looks a good bet for India captain in the shorter formats. He has three ODI doubles and two international T20 centuries. And there’s also the little fact of him leading Mumbai Indians to two IPL wins.
Team India finally has a great pool of openers, other specialist batsmen, fast bowlers, spinners and captains. No matter who gets injured, the Team India machine just marches on. As mentioned we’ve won 7/7 3-match T20 series from 2016-2018.
We had won 9 Test series on the trot before the loss to South Africa. We have also won 9 straight ODI bilateral series and let’s see how long this streak lasts. And this has happened no matter who steps in and out of the team!The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here