Broadcasters gave attractive taglines like the ‘Final Frontier’ to promote India’s bid to win their first-ever Test series in South Africa. It couldn’t have been further from the truth, given India’s meek capitulation in the Centurion Test.But South Africa isn’t the only place where India have struggled away from home.
For the record, of the last 20 Tests that India have played in New Zealand, they have won only one, in Hamilton in 2009. None of the current Test team players were part of that team. Since then India have toured New Zealand twice and lost on both occasions.
The current India team has won successive ‘home-and-away’ series against Australia, Bangladesh and West Indies. They have not played Tests against Pakistan since 2007 and have not toured Sri Lanka in the last six years. Besides South Africa, they have not won their last series in England in 2021-22 (2-2) and New Zealand too. Some quarterfinals have to be won before the final frontier can be conquered.
India’s batting surrender in the Centurion Test was not a huge surprise. Half of the top order batsmen do not seem well equipped, both technically and mentally, to tough it out in such conditions. The ability to graft for a draw or survive sessions is not everybody’s cup of tea.
Losing by an innings on the third day or by 6-7 wickets on the fourth or fifth day is not remarkably different in the eyes of the current generation. They conserve time and energy. This is one of the reasons why they could fight back from 36 all out in Adelaide and then win the next Test in Melbourne in 2020-21.
India’s recent noteworthy efforts away from home were attained due to the pace-bowling quality and its effectiveness, Ajinkya Rahane‘s captaincy (after Virat’s absence Down Under in 2020-21), Rishabh Pant‘s daredevilry (in Sydney, Brisbane, Cape Town, Birmingham) and the dogged defence of Hanuma Vihari and R Ashwin (in Sydney).
With India losing the ODI World Cup final and Rohit Sharma’s IPL captaincy being taken away, one cannot expect India’s leadership group to be absolutely stable. Then there is an issue of too much insignificant white-ball bilateral series that warrants resting players and naming multiple captains.
Pacer Mohammed Shami‘s absence from the first Test was expected to haunt India in Centurion, and it did.
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Winning a Test series against a good team in challenging conditions is not just about skills and guts. It’s also about bowling artistry and having defensive batting technique to survive tricky sessions.