Why were India unable to break their Test hoodoo in South Africa?

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 17, 2018 19:23 hrs
With South Africa winning the trophy, India need to win the final Test to avoid a whitewash

The Indian team was riding on the crest of a wave. Under captain Virat Kohli, they were unbeaten in 10 consecutive Test series since the tour of Bangladesh in June 2015. Out of those nine were successive series wins which include two away series wins in Sri Lanka and one in West Indies.

This was a world record jointly held with Australia. Naturally, expectations were high when India boarded the plane to South Africa. India had won just two Tests in 17 attempts in six prior Test series in the Rainbow nation.

However, India's pace bowling stocks were considered to be the best ever in their 86-year Test history. Therefore, all pundits and fans felt that this was their best chance to end their 25-year hoodoo in South Africa. However, all hopes were blown away as South Africa won the second Test by 135 runs to pocket the series.

The table below gives the scoreline of all the Test series that India have contested in South Africa.

Team

Team

Year

No of Tests

Result

 

 

 

 

 

South Africa

India

1992-1993

4

SA won 1-0

South Africa

India

1996-1997

3

SA won 2-0

South Africa

India

2001-2002

2

SA won 1-0

South Africa

India

2006-2007

3

SA won 2-1

South Africa

India

2010-2011

3

Drawn 1-1

South Africa

India

2013-2014

2

SA won 1-0

South Africa

India

2017-2018

3

SA leading 2-0

So, why did India fall short again? Was this team really as good as it was touted to be? Did they deserve all the plaudits that they got for their stupendous run? India have lost the series 2-0 and also their chance of registering their first ever Test series win against the Proteas away from home and becoming the first team to win 10 consecutive Test series.

The Wanderers in Johannesburg is considered to be one of the fastest pitches in South Africa and also offers a lot of bounce. After India's capitulation at Newlands and Centurion, a 3-0 clean sweep by South Africa cannot be ruled out, especially at a venue which will favour South Africa's taller and faster pace bowlers.

The memory of two 4-0 whitewashes in England and Australia in 2011 and 2011-12 respectively still rankles India fans.

Let's attempt to find out why India fell short this time as opposed to two previous tours in South Africa in 2006 and 2010 where they did comparatively better.

In 2010-11, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir opened the batting and complemented each other well. In six partnerships for the first wicket, the two put on 269 runs for the first wicket at an average of nearly 45 runs with one century partnership and scored in excess of four runs an over in four out of the six partnerships.

This ensured that some amount of pressure was put on the South African new ball bowlers and made things relatively easier for the middle order. They scored at a rate of 3.84 runs overall in the six innings whereas the Indian openers in this series average just 21.25 in the four-innings scoring at just 2.84 runs per over.

The openers in 2010 scored 35.21% faster than the current lot and that makes a huge difference in South Africa where the wickets always aid the fast bowlers and a batsman is always like to get a ball with is name on it.

India's top five wickets averaged 45.75, 41.72 runs per wicket and 33.89 in 2013-14, 2001-02 and 2010 respectively. In the current series their top five wickets have averaged just 19.05 in the four-innings put together.

To put that in layman's terms India on average are 95/5 when batting in this series. Unfortunately, does not win you too many games.

Geoffrey Boycott once said that while batsmen need not bowl, all bowlers have to bat. Even though Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin did score useful knocks at times, too often India's tail which includes the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami just fall like a pack of cards.

Whereas South Africa have competent batsmen in Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada who stick around and allow the recognized batsman to play normal cricket and accumulate runs.

In India's first innings in Centurion, Kohli sacrificed his wicket because he had absolutely no confidence in Ishant and Bumrah and India conceded a valuable lead of 28.

In South Africa's second innings in Centurion they were 163/5 and the game was in the balance. Philander stuck around and allowed Faf Du Plessis to play normally and the pair put on 46 to deflate the  Indians.

Also, in the previous tours the Indian batsmen shared the load and were not overly reliant on just one batsman whereas in this tour they were heavily dependent on Virat Kohli.

Cricket is a team game and one batsman cannot shoulder the responsibility of an entire team.

While India's bowlers have toiled manfully in this series, they are unable to sustain pressure for long periods of time and give away boundary balls thereby letting the Proteas batsmen off the hook.

However, the South African bowlers were relentless and hardly bowled any bad deliveries forcing the Indians to take risks and score off good balls to keep the scoreboard ticking.

When the schedule for this tour was announced India were supposed to play a two-day practice match. However, they cancelled it and opted for some center wicket practice.

As most experts would say, there is no substitute for practice in actual match situations as opposed to net practice. India also did not help their cause with strange selections.

As mentioned in an earlier article, Bhuvneshwar Kumar exclusion bordered on stupidity. They also went by history and failed to read the pitch correctly in Centurion as that would have been an ideal opportunity to play Ravindra Jadeja in tandem with Ashwin.

All these blunders led India to botch a golden opportunity to create history in South Africa and they will need to pull up their socks to avoid a whitewash in Johannesburg.

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