Harsha Bhogle, one of the foremost Indian cricket analysts, gave an excellent and layered explanation as to why India were not able to win the Test series against South Africa. Bhogle said that first off, India never had got enough preparation to play in South Africa due to poor cricket scheduling. Featuring on Cricbuzz, Bhogle said,
“That is a concern that has always dogged Indian cricket. Whenever there is a question of commerce versus scheduling, commerce always wins.”
The Indian cricket team had entered South Africa with over a decade full of emotions and expectations. However, after a number of moments where it seemed that South Africa would be toppled by the men in blue, another overseas Test series has slipped out of Team India’s hands.
If one thinks about it, this seemed India’s best chance to win an overseas series. The batsmen had been there before, the bowling department had a seam-heavy character and looked ready to take on the South African batsmen, and the team was experienced. However, an in-form Team India which were riding an excellent cricketing momentum, absolutely faltered and failed in the Protea land.
Keeping aside all the criticism that is revolving around the team’s performance, let us have a look at 5 reasons why India was unable to dominate the Proteas in the first two Tests.
1. Opening batsmen need to face the new ball
The new ball is a factor that is key when playing overseas cricket, specially Test cricket. It is important for the openers to come and face the new ball, while the middle-order batsmen’s role is to further the game when the ball is beat and not fresh. Harsha Bhogle said,
“I’ve always said that when you go to play an overseas series, the new ball becomes far more important than it is in India. Whether you are bowling it, or batting against it, the new ball is a huge factor. India’s openers have to play the new ball and the middle-order players have to play a slightly older ball.”
“In three out of four innings, except the 2nd innings in Centurion, Virat Kohli had come to bat in the first ten overs. In the fourth innings, he had come to bat in the 12th over. What that tells you is that the middle order is facing the new ball. Not just that, they are facing fast bowlers who have tasted blood, and so they are coming in and are bowling quicker.”
“When did India play their best overseas? When Sehwag and Gambhir were giving you stars, when Sehwag was taking it apart and Aakash Chopra was blunting the new ball.”
“So, for India to make a change, whether you are playing in South Africa or England, the openers have to blunt the new ball even if they don’t score a lot of runs. But, the middle order cannot be coming in and facing the new ball.”
2. Lack of Preparation
If one remembers the India-Sri Lanka series from late 2017, Virat Kohli was heard complaining about India’s tight cricketing schedule and how that was not offering the team enough time to get some good quality practice for South Africa series. Harsha Bhogle’s concern had been the same. He said,
“India were not prepared for it and that was feared right at the start.”
“I am absolutely convinced, everybody has been saying it for twenty years now. You need a minimum of two first class matches because you must finish making all the mistakes and all the adjustments, before you go into the Test series. And India didn’t have the opportunity so India were learning. You make a change in the second Test match and the player coming out is again fresh. He hasn’t had the time to adjust and to make the mistakes.”
“So, I believe this is mandatory and I believe administrators around the world have to sit together, if we have to ensure that there are decent away contests. Otherwise, Test cricket is gonna go down to home-sides winning. So, you come to India, I win. I come to South Africa, you win. That is not great for Test match cricket.”
3. Indian bowlers’ irregular intensity
Harsha Bhogle said that although Indian bowlers were good, they could have been better. He compared it to the situation when overseas teams come to India and although the bowlers look good, they are always bested by the Indian bowlers. Bhogle also talked about Mohammed Shami and what his role needs to be. He said,
“When overseas spinners come to India, they look good but the Indian spinners take more wickets. You’ve got Ngidi, Rabada, Morkel. You’ve got big fellows, they hit the deck and the ball is always up here. India got decent bowlers but I think the quality of the South African bowlers on their pitches, was very different.”
“Somewhere in the India’s intensity in the bowling, suddenly there’s great intensity, and suddenly it comes down. We saw that in both the Test matches, where all of a sudden the opposition builds up partnerships, Indian batsmen didn’t have that,” Bhogle gave credit to the South African bowlers.
“I’ve got enormous regard for Mohd Shami’s talent but suddenly he goes missing. In the second innings he comes and he bowls a spell that turns the game around. But Mohd Shami is India’s No. 1 bowler in overseas conditions, so he needed to set up the game in the first innings, not try and salvage it in the second.”
4. India played easy cricket in the months before South Africa tour
India were coming from the Sri Lanka series, who have been wandering in the lower rungs of cricket for a while now. Sri Lanka hasn’t won much of cricket in the past season, and Indian team’s conditioning had suffered playing against them. Harsha Bhogle said that playing easy cricket was always a problem, but there was not much than one could do about it. He said,
“I also suspected India played too much easy cricket. Now that is something that we knew and that is something that we cannot do anything about because that is the scheduling. You could not have said ‘We will not play Sri Lanka at home’ because there are contracts, there are commitments.”
“In the coming years we are going to have the same issue again so there is nothing you can do about that. But, more than playing at home, I think it was the quality of the opposition. You make a mistake and you can get away with it. But in South Africa, you make a mistake and you cannot get away with it. So that was a factor.”
5. Virat Kohli’s mentality
Virat Kohli has earned himself a reputation of being a highly aggressive and competitive captain and cricketer. His tactics and mentality have often been the topic of discussion for cricket gurus and pundits. However, Harsha Bhogle has a concern that whether Kohli’s aggressive mindset is resulting in the other Indian players’ disillusionment. Bhogle said,
“I think at the moment, in Indian cricket, Virat Kohli is playing at level that is different from everybody else. And I just wonder whether he thinks that what works for him, should work for everybody else. And that’s understandable, every player is like that. I wonder if he is demanding things and drawing people out of their strengths into players they are not, because he believes that is what works for him.”
“And I think going ahead, while India playing overseas, a key factor will be Virat Kohli understanding that not everybody is like him, not everybody is playing at his level. Not everybody can play with that enormous intensity, and still go out and be fresh to score runs. Can Kohli calm down and understand that player play on different levels to him, and he has got to go down there and lift them up.”