by Kuldip Lal
When the blame game starts for another Test series defeat outside the sub-continent, the executioners of the post-mortem will not have to look too far for an answer.
It stares in the face.
India may be kings on the featherbeds at home but the two Tests in South Africa have shown they are paupers when confronted with adverse conditions abroad.
The Centurion pitch was “Indian-like” for many, but the bounce and pace generated by inarguably the most destructive fast bowling quartet in the game had the batsmen hopping and ducking for cover.
Not many batting line-ups around the world would have fared any better, but that can be little consolation for a team hoping to justify their number one ranking.
The top spot for Virat Kohli’s men itself is a bit of a misnomer. It has come about because since the 2015 World Cup, India have played all its Test cricket either at home or away in Sri Lanka and the Caribbean and thumped all comers.
Results outside the comfort zone are not so complimentary.
In 24 Tests played on seaming or fast wickets in England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand since winning the 2011 World Cup, the Indians have secured just one victory — at Lord’s in 2014 — and suffered 17 defeats.
What happened in South Africa will not surprise many, although Kohli said the current side was capable of doing much better than what the results indicated.
So where did it all go wrong ?
Abject surrender by the top order barring one majestic innings from the captain, sloppy running between the wickets, sloppier catching, letting South Africa off the hook with wayward bowling, strange selections….the list is endless.
How can a team win when leaving aside Kohli’s 153 at Centurion, none of the top five batsmen managed even a half-century in any of the four innings ?
Openers Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul never inspired confidence as openers and Cheteshwar Pujara undermined his reputation as the team’s most dependent Test batsman.
Pujara not only managed just 49 runs in four outings, but the horror show at Centurion where he ran himself out in both innings was incomprehensible.
Perhaps the pressure of trying to score against the incessant barrage of fast bowling muddled his mind.
And Rohit Sharma finally proved — if any proof was needed — that he may be a prolific run-getter on the easy-paced pitches at home but remains a sitting duck when confronted with demanding conditions.
Rohit’s 47 in the second innings at Centurion, played in a losing cause when the pressure was lifted, did little to enhance his reputation.
Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri may finally be persuaded to give Ajinkya Rahane a a look-in and also recall Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but it will be unfair to expect them to change the team’s fortunes in the final Test in Johannesburg.
The bowlers made good use of friendly conditions to restrict South Africa to below 300 in three of the four innings, the lone exception being the 335 after electing to bat at Centurion.
But Mohammad Shami and company must take the blame for allowing the Proteas to prosper after having them on the mat at 12-3 on the first morning at Cape Town and 3-2 in the second innings at Centurion.
Both times AB de Villiers bailed the tourists out, frustrating the Indians and amply making up for the lack of runs from the accomplished Hashim Amla.
The team’s incompetent display that puts it on the brink of a 3-0 whitewash was best exemplified by the ridiculous run-out of Hardik Pandya, who did not bother to ground his bat after completing a run.