A golden opportunity lost

A golden opportunity lost

When Rudyard Kipling wrote "never the twain shall meet" in his 1982 Barrack-room ballads, he obviously didn't have the Indian batting and the bowling in his imagination. But he might as well have because the two skills never seem to work in tandem for them to be an effective outfit in conditions outside the sub-continent.

Having enjoyed an unprecedented success at home or in similar conditions in the last two and half years, India came to South Africa with a lot of expectations. While the batting unit looked as solid as ever, their well-rounded pace attack had enhanced their hopes. Two Tests down the line, all the calculations have gone wrong and the script has gone awry. The "home truth" (pun intended) has finally dawned on them.

Barring Virat Kohli and the bowling group, none of the other players has measured up to the task. In truth, the series defeat can be entirely put at the doorstep of the batsmen who slaughter bowling attacks in the comforts of home but become lambs themselves out of their comfort zone. And Kohli hit the nail on the head when he pointed out to this shortcoming – the batting and the bowling departments failing to work together.

"Look everyone wants to perform everywhere," he said when asked about lack of preparation and India's performance outside the sub-continent. "I don't know whether people think about those things too early because when we came here last time we batted well. This time around we haven't batted well as a unit. We bowled well, we didn't bowl as well last time but this time we have bowled better. But what's annoying is that it hasn't come together at one time which obviously South Africa has done and that's how you win Test matches.

"That's the most hurtful thing that both skills are not coming together at the right time, including fielding. They were far superior to us on the field. All three things have to come together well in tough situations to be able to win Test matches and series which we have failed," Kohli had analysed after the second Test.    

There is still one more Test to go in the series and the numbers may vary at the end of it all, but we have enough sample already to prove that this has been India's worst batting show in their seven visits to South Africa (see table). At 20.05 runs per wicket, they have performed worse than their previous record of 24.01 runs in 1996-97. Interestingly, for the first time in seven series, the bowlers have outperformed their batting mates.

They have managed to dismiss South Africa in all the four innings which is a rare achievement for Indian bowlers. The pace and R Ashwin's off-spin combined, India have managed to scalp a South African wicket every 25.22 runs which is a massive improvement over their previous best of 29.03 in 2006-07.

Never in the past did India come to this country with such bowling resources. They were expected to make life tough for the home batsmen and it is safe to say that they have lived up to those expectations if not exceeded them. With most of their bases covered insofar as bowling is concerned, India genuinely believed they could reverse the losing trend but their batsmen, the pampered lot, have fluffed a golden opportunity. While all these years India rued the lack of teeth in its attack, this time the batsmen have let the team down.          

The Indian team will resume its preparations for the final Test here from Saturday following a three-day break. During this time, the Indian players visited Mabula Game Reserve for an overnight stay and, according to some reports, held team bonding sessions as well. While one might argue that the players could have done with some more practice after having lost the series, sometimes it's better to stay away from the action -- take some quality break, do some honest introspection, dust off all the cobwebs in the mind and come back fresh. What, however, can't be denied though is that this Indian team's bubble has been burst.

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