It was in many ways the perfect team performance for India. They dominated South Africa in every department of the game to complete their first clean sweep over the Proteas.
“It was one of the most balanced performances we have had. Batsmen scoring runs, bowlers taking wickets, [Wriddhiman] Saha coming back into the side,” said Virat Kohli in the post-match press conference. “I don’t think we allowed the opposition to get into any game at all.”
1st Test, Vizag: India won by 203 runs
2nd Test, Pune: India won by inns & 137 runs
3rd Test, Ranchi: India won by inns & 202 runs
While India were expected to dominate the opposition on home ground, few were expecting it to be this comprehensive especially after South Africa showed some fight in the first innings of the first Test in Visakhapatnam. But things went steadily downhill after that as India got into the heads of the South African batsmen and bowlers.
Here are our five takeaways from the series:
Across three Tests, India lost 25 wickets and South Africa, 60. To see South Africa being so comprehensively outbowled was a joy to behold. However, to see the Proteas pacers being outbowled by their Indian counterparts was perhaps that little bit more special given that India were missing Jasprit Bumrah for the series.
The Indian spinners were way better than the South Africans and of that, there was no doubt. In batting conditions that were way better than the 2015 tour, the SA batsmen had a chance if they were prepared to put in the hard yards but Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were always tight. If they weren’t getting wickets, they weren’t giving away runs either.
Umesh Yadav showcased the depth of this bowling by claiming 11 wickets at an average of just 12.18. Shahbaz Nadeem did the same in his only Test. The wickets were shared and that meant the bowlers were never too tired, which showed in how Kohli enforced the follow-on too. There’s depth, there’s competition and there’s the will to make the most of every opportunity.
This is a bowling unit that inspires fear in the opposition and there truly is no greater praise.
A hit in Tests too
“I think opening suits me. Put the pads on and go out to bat right away. Your mind is absolutely fresh, you know that you have to play the new ball, you know what the two bowlers bowling with the new ball can do. So the game plan becomes a little easier. You know the field, you know the ball will not reverse. The plan is simple when you face the new ball.”
Rohit Sharma’s words after his century in his first innings as an opener in Test cricket seemed to resonate ever louder as the series went on. He was adjudged the Player of the Series for his aggregate of more than 500 runs that included three centuries, one of them being a double.
But it wasn’t just the amount of runs that distinguished him. Rather, it was the manner in which he scored them that made him so impressive. Solid to begin his innings and unstoppable once set. He attacked the South African spinners mercilessly, so much so that Graeme Smith suggested in jest that the spinners might cry if they see a photo of Sharma back home.
Sharma knows that his biggest challenges will come away from home but there was no better way to stamp his authority on a position than the way the Mumbai batsman did.
Rohit Sharma in his first series as a Test opener
As pleasing as it was to watch Rohit Sharma succeed as opener, watching Ajinkya Rahane shed those shadows of doubt was just as important. The India vice-captain has been an integral part of the Test unit for a while now but he always looked like a batsman who was holding himself back.
In this series, India saw him play with much greater fluency. That was perhaps a reflection of how poor this South African bowling attack was but Rahane still needed to find himself in the middle and not look like the weight of the world was upon his shoulders.
When Rahane bats the way he did in this series, India’s batting unit has a very different feel to it. He has the experience and he needs to make it count.
As coach Ravi Shastri said after the game: “Rahane was not going to go anywhere, he needed to rediscover himself.”
Rahane in the series: 216 runs at an average of 72.00
Jadeja the all-rounder
When Ravichandran Ashwin was dropped in the West Indies, there was a huge hue and cry about it. Perhaps, it was justified as well given the off-spinner’s record for India. But Ravindra Jadeja has gone about making a solid case for himself with every game he plays.
The all-rounder has made himself very hard to drop. In the series against South Africa, he claimed 13 wickets at 30.39 and scored 212 runs at an average of 70.66. If one adds his impact as a fielder into that mix, one can see why he might be picked ahead of Ashwin in an overseas Test again.
This has little to do with how good Ashwin is as a bowler and more to do with the overall utility value that Jadeja provides to the team.
In overseas conditions, India tend to use spinners in a holding role and is Jadeja more suited to that than Ashwin? It will never be an easy call to make but Jadeja has not put a foot wrong in the last four years – he is averaging 41.41 with the bat and 22.66 with the ball in that period.
The right pitch
This Indian team has risen above the pitch and that augurs well for the ICC Test Championship where winning away could be the difference. All teams win at home these days but to have a team that is capable of performing in all conditions is a vital advantage.
In a post-match chat, coach Shastri said: “Our philosophy has been to hell with the pitch. We need to take 20 wickets and it doesn’t matter if it’s Mumbai, Auckland, Melbourne, where we won, anywhere. Once we have taken those 20 wickets, our batting, once it gets going, is like a smooth-running Ferrari. When you have five bowlers who can take 20 wickets, that’s what matters.”
For Virat Kohli, the mindset is what makes this unit special.
“Making things happen on pitches that don’t seem to offer too much, is something we’re very proud of,” said Kohli. “Even when we travelled away from home, we wanted to compete. Getting into the right kind of mindset is something these guys have worked really hard to get into. Looking at the way these guys run in to bowl, or even in the field, you can see that mindset. To be the best side in the world, you have to be multi-dimensional.”
Kohli added: “As I said, even without much experience, we travelled very well. We believe we can win anywhere.”
In the next year or so, Kohli’s belief will be tested but regardless of the outcome, he won’t doubt himself and neither will his team.