The writing was on the wall even before India embarked on this tour of South Africa. With their current lack of form, India were bound to struggle against the No 2 side in the world.
Frankly, Indian cricket has been in a mess for a while now, though outstanding individual performances have managed to get them out of the woods in the recent times. But the prolonged loss of form (the tangible evidence) and the acknowledgement of that lack of form by themselves and the wise men running the show (the mental evidence) has cost us the series.
Firstly, India lost the talismanic Yuvraj Singh before the start of the series itself and drafted in Dinesh Kaarthick, a wicketkeeper who could bat a bit, as his replacement. Which in itself put a big question mark on the batting credentials of hundreds of batsmen playing domestic cricket back home, including players like Laxman and Ganguly. Playing Kaarthick, ahead of Mongia, Raina and Kaif, would have done nothing for the morale of these players.
Thankfully, the first game washout meant it was a 4-0 series loss, better reading than 5-0. Granted that barring the world champions (who themselves lost the one-dayers last time) no team has done well in South Africa, but the lack of fight in India has been galling.
And there have been issues of selection for games themselves. For instance, after the Durban loss, instead of showing patience with their own youngsters, the team management made four changes for the next game. Now, did they play the wrong side in the first game or did they have no faith that the players could gain form?
And it wasn’t merely about possible tactical errors — there were several other issues. The Indian batting, including the big guns, looked extremely fragile under the testing South African conditions and the Tests might not be better. Just a couple of years ago, India had done exceptionally well in Australia and the conditions Down Under would have been similar, except that the bowling attack here could be marginally better. There is obviously a problem in mindset and approach.
Losing the tosses didn’t help as chasing under lights with a collectively out of form batting became impossible. The bowling, though, hasn’t been the worry and India often had South Africa on the backfoot but then (maybe that lack of confidence and relative inexperience) allowed the hosts to get away. Having said that, like any other champion side, South Africa bat really deep.
The fielding was appalling and for that, they have only themselves to blame. An old phrase ‘catches win matches’ still holds true in the modern era, as the outstanding Proteas proved.
Anyway, the one-dayers are done but there is possibly more embarrassment around the corner unless someone does something dramatically uplifting. And unfortunately, while no one wants to be utterly pessimistic, that looks improbable.