“These one and a half years will define what this Indian team can do,” said coach Ravi Shastri ahead of the trip to South Africa.

With important tours of England and Australia to follow, the South African experience held much importance. Known for their dominant displays at home, the challenge of an overseas tour was what

Nearly two months after landing in the African nation, Virat Kohli-led India have walked away with two trophies and a Test win. It’s safe to say they also come off from it, with an enhanced touring reputation.

While Kohli’s impervious form grabbed headlines on most days through the tour, the performance of India’s bowling department also stood out for its sheer potency. Not once did they seem out of place.

The wickets, while conducive to seam, were sometimes two-paced and sluggish. Many times, it was the South African bowlers who struggled to make sense of them. To the credit of India’s bowlers, that issue never arose while the team was in the field.

At no point did the team look bereft of option on the field as there were always candidates who stood up and delivered with the ball across formats.

If not the wrist spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav - it was the pacers who came to the fore. They used the swing and seam well in the Tests, and were equally adept at utilising variations and subtle change of pace in the limited-overs leg.

The Test series might have been lost after the first two games, but India showed incredible tenacity to bounce back from the early defeats to stage impressive series wins in the ODIs and the T20s. All of which began after a stellar performance that saw them clinch victory in the third Test at Johannesburg.

India’s pace battery matched their South Africa counterparts spell for spell in the Tests. If the batsmen had complemented them with a competitive performance in the opening two Tests, the result could have been a lot different. Bhuvneshwar Kumar was at the forefront of this charge.

The pacer had run through the South African top-order in the morning session on Day 1 of the first Test at Newlands back at the turn of the year. It was a testament to his control over the swinging ball. With conditions favouring the pacers, it was imperative that India’s pace battery utilise every ounce of swing available. Bhuvneshwar played the part to perfection.

As he had done on the opening day of the tour in Cape Town, it was the medium pacer who rose to the occasion to keep calm and take India across the line as the encounter was decided in the final over.

Consistency across formats

This time around the format was different, but the pacer was more than adept at the challenges. It was the swing and seam that he aimed for, it was the variations and the famed knuckle ball that came to the fore. Not only did he top the wicket-taking chart in the Test series, he was also the highest wicket-taker in the T20I series.

Other than Kohli’s unbelievable form with the bat, what was most striking was the ability of the bowling department to suit to every need in these overseas conditions.

Jasprit Bumrah, who was the surprise pick for the Tests, left a mark on proceedings, staking claim as an important member of the team in all formats. After Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma showed some bite in the longest format, the likes of Jaidev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur gave a good account of themselves in the shorter formats.

All-rounder Hardik Pandya drew some flak during the tour for being off-colour and was largely under-used. On Saturday, though, he bowled some economical overs that helped choke South Africa for runs as went about their chase in the T20 series decider.

The absence of Kuldeep and Chahal, who were left out of the playing XI did not make a lot of difference as the others stepped up to the challenge. The duo occupied the top two spots at the end of the ODI series. It was their collective effort along with Kohli’s individual brilliance that saw India romp home in the 50-over format.

Other than the prowess of Kohli, it is this bowling attack which is likely to be India’s biggest weapon when it goes on to tour England and Australia before the 2019 World Cup. It is their performance that played a major role in making the tour of South Africa a success. More of the same will be expected from them. Perhaps, in the future, their efforts (and not just those of the batting line-up) will define the path this team takes towards greatness.