Even before India left for the tour of South Africa, the contest was billed as the face-off between the Indian batsmen and the host’s pace battery.

With bowler-friendly conditions expected for the Tests and the limited-overs formats, the assumption was that the South African bowlers would dictate terms. Their familiarity with the conditions was obviously an advantage. The bowlers too came with a reputation of their ferocity.

But as the series progressed, India’s batsmen managed to blunt the Proteas attack and the visitor’s bowling line-up surprised one and all as they out-witted the South African batsmen to tilt the advantage in India’s favour.

While the pace battery showed glimpses of class through the first two Tests in Cape Town and Centurion, they helped India win the final Test in Johannesburg. And wrist-spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal took the lead once the one-day series commenced.

And by the time, India wrapped up a historic ODI series win on Tuesday, it was quite apparent that the clinical performance of the bowlers was at the heart of the team’s success on this challenging tour.

Breaking records

No visiting bowler had ever taken more than 13 wickets in a bilateral ODI series in South Africa. With one game still left, India now have two who have. That both are wrist spinners only makes the feat more impressive.

Kuldeep leads the wicket-taking chart for the series with 16 wickets, while leg-spinner Chahal has 14 so far. Led by the duo’s wicket-taking prowess and a disciplined effort of the pacers, India produced a dominant performance that saw them take an unassailable 4-1 lead in the ODI series after Tuesday’s 73 run victory.

Most importantly, the success has shown that India has a bowling attack which is well-rounded and potent enough to be utilised for the all-important World Cup to be held in England next year.

Pacers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, have shown that they know how to bowl on bouncy tracks and generate movement off the deck. All-rounder Hardik Pandya has also handed in crucial breakthroughs, especially in the ODI series-clinching win in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.

Finding turn in South Africa

Ron Gaunt/SPORTZPICS
Ron Gaunt/SPORTZPICS

But many would not have foreseen as possibility of spinners proving effective in overseas conditions.

The South Africa tour was definitely a litmus test for the team management’s experiment’s with wrist-spinners. The decision to replace established spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with Kuldeep and Chahal in the limited overs team was what many considered a bold move.

The change was probably warranted after India’s dismal performance in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy in England where they were humbled by arch-rivals Pakistan. One of the take-away from that game was the ineffectiveness of the finger-spinners on hard pitches. With the World Cup set to be held in the same country, an overhaul of the bowling department was essential.

Kuldeep and Chahal were first brought into the side when Ashwin and Jadeja, considered to be two the world’s best spinners, were ‘rested’.

“We wanted to take a look at all the options available to us,” India’s bowling coach Bharat Arun had said while justifying the odd experiment.

Kuldeep, Chahal stepped up to the challenge with eye-catching performances through the home season. The pitches in South Africa did offer assistance to some degree, but it was the manner in which the duo utilised the conditions that proved most impressive.

That Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah have produced matured performances in the same period, has worked perfectly for India, who under skipper Virat Kohli are trying to consolidate their place at top of the world order.

More rest ahead?

Bharat Arun has hinted that the team will continue with its policy of resting players in the coming months. If the selectors back the plan, it might lead to a few more fresh faces getting a look in ahead of the World Cup.

With a year and a half left for the quadrennial tournament, there’s ample time for the coaching staff to plug holes, if any. By the looks of it, the bowling attack seems well-rounded.

That Kohli has persisted with largely the same playing XI through the series (Kedar Jadhav was ruled out after the first two ODIs with a hamstring niggle), this combination seems to have the skipper’s complete confidence.

The tour of England later this year, does provide another platform for the selectors and team management to further prune or fine tune the attack. However from what has been on display in South Africa, there doesn’t seem any need to further tinker with his bowling attack ahead of the World Cup.