For the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, an American sports goods manufacturing company put out a controversial tagline that said, "you don't win silver, you lose gold." In other words, anything less than a win was pointless. Similarly, playing for pride after losing a series has to be the most meaningless of sporting parlances. Where's the pride left after the surrender?
If the Indian cricketers are going to be hard on themselves, they will know they have no more than a consolation prize in store when they take on South Africa in the third and final Test here at the Wanderers from Wednesday. On what promises to be another "greentrackitis" (a severe intolerance to green wickets) experience for the tourists, Virat Kohli and company face the potential ignominy of becoming the first Indian side to be whitewashed in the Rainbow nation. Their unbeaten record in Tests here at the Bullring is also under big threat at the same time.
The ineptness with the bat and dubious selections have contributed chiefly for their defeat but lapses in fielding, especially slip-catching, and running between the wickets â€“ they had three run-outs in the second Test â€“ have played their part too. Only bowling has been their saving grace. Head Coach Ravi Shastri may claim that India have played like the No 1 side that they are, but when more than one aspect of your game isn't up to scratch in difficult conditions, your winning chances are as good as Rohit Sharma justifying his place in the playing 11 here.
Talking of Rohit, the right-hander's performance, or the lack of it, typifies India's plight -- tigers at home and lambs outside. The Mumbai batsman had stacked up tons of runs in limited-overs cricket in the run-up to the South African sojourn and had done more than reasonably well in the limited opportunities he had got in Tests. But his limitations as a Test batsman in pacy and bouncy conditions have been thoroughly exposed. By playing him ahead of a proven performer like Ajinkya Rahane, it's difficult to say whether the team management has done a disservice to Rohit or his fellow Mumbaikar.
Kohli and Shastri are under pressure to bring Rahane back for the final Test, and if they do so, it will be interesting to see who they leave out. Cheteshwar Pujara's two run-outs hurt the team's cause badly in the second Test but can they afford to omit him at a venue where his second-innings 153 in 2013 had given them a great chance of a win? There is also a talk of beefing up the batting line-up by playing the sixth batsman, in which case Rahane comes in and one of Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin sits out. Looking at the amount of grass on the pitch, it appears Ashwin will have limited or little role to play in the Test.
It's going to be a tricky selection process but then it's a self-imposed one. If the right choices had been made at the start of the series, the team's thinktank would have been saved of this predicament. For the last two years, we have been used to hearing "good headache to have" from the captain and the members of the support staff in reference to the multiple options at their disposal. Now, only "headache" seems to have left in that phrase.
South Africa may be sitting on an unassailable 2-0 lead, but they aren't yet relenting. Having left India in 2015 with deep scars in their minds, the South Africans are aiming nothing less than a clean sweep of the series. From pitch preparation to their aggressive approach on the field, they have shown all the intent that Kohli has been demanding of his team. The third Test is likely to be interrupted by rain over the next three-four days but with an attack to die for, the hosts are capable of getting a result even if they get three days of scattered play.