India losing the last one-dayer and with it the series could well be a blessing in disguise. If they had won the game then the expectations for the World Cup which are huge anyway would have gone sky high and that kind of pressure is not easy to handle especially when the event is at home.
What it will also do is to make the team aware that they still have some distance to go before being called the best in this format. Like all the teams that come from sunny climes, India too have still not got used to playing in a bit of rain and cold and this part of mental toughening is crucial if the team wants to be a champion team. When the skies open up or the temperature drops the mind also gets uneasy and that in turn affects the body and thus there is a certain hesitancy in the approach to the task at hand.
Despite loss, Team India are peaking at the right time
Just look at the performances even in the Ranji Trophy when it is played in the North of India in the winter months and you will see it is well below par simply because even though the game has to be played out in the middle, the mind wants to stay in the warmth of the dressing room. When the sun is out in its full glory the Indians are at the top of their game mentally and physically too and that's when they are at their most dangerous.
Yusuf Pathan was at his savaging best as he clobbered a quick fire century and gave India some hope that they would be able to pull it off but as has been said in this column over and over again unless India's bowlers also start to bat a bit, India will fall short of chases even when a few runs are required. Sure, bowlers cannot have the batting temperament of the upper order but if bowlers are going to back away and throw it away when there is a batsman at the other end batting beautifully, then they are not doing any good to the team.
Hopefully the examples of Harbhajan and Zaheer will be followed by other bowlers too. These two have realised from their bowling to the opposition lower order that there are no easy wickets in international cricket and have thus worked hard in the nets to improve not just their batting skills but also spent time with batsmen and learnt how to stick around and build a partnership.
Unfortunately it's not just the bowlers but some of India's most promising young batsmen who too have been disappointing with their lack of application. Rohit Sharma had another chance to show his undoubted skills but he threw it away again. When you are not in good form then you don't go for expansive drives against the new ball. Instead you look for quick singles and get the circulation in the legs going and stay at the safety of the non-strikers end. Then as the ball softens and your eyes start to focus and the feet become lighter then you look for the big shots. Sharma never tried to do that and neither did Raina who also had a forgettable tour of South Africa.
It was a big opportunity lost to win a Test and one-day series for the first time in South Africa but hopefully it will be made up for once they are back in familiar territory