2013 has been an exceptional year for India. They won the Champions Trophy in England, beat Australia and West Indies at home and also won the ODI series against England earlier in the year after being shocked by Alastair Cook’s men in the Tests. We are in December now, a period where most sides look back at the kind of year they have had, and get into retrospective mode. But, India cannot afford to do that as yet. Their toughest series of the year has only just begun!
It is only at the end of the month (and the year) when the Durban Test comes to a close that we can evaluate India’s performance better. It will be a cruel appraisal if India fail to perform well in South Africa, but one bad series could very well mar their otherwise brilliant year. There can be no excuses given that the series was a curtailed one and hence India did not get enough time acclimatise themselves to the conditions. After all, this is how the BCCI and not the South African cricket board wanted it. Of course, three Tests and seven ODIs would have been the perfect schedule for India to test themselves, but it wasn’t to be.
How India perform in South Africa will be crucial in more ways than one. If you take away the Champions Trophy, which India won in England, all of their triumphs have come in home conditions. They did taste success in Zimbabwe, but that isn’t much to boast of. Take the Champions Trophy away, and you realise that they beat Australia 4-0 at home in the Tests and inflicted a 2-0 win against West Indies in another Test series. In the one-dayers, they won a close tri-series in West Indies, before beating the Aussies and Windies at home.
The above-mentioned stats indicate that India have a point to prove especially in the Tests specifically because they haven’t played any Tests away from home this year. Also, their record in South Africa isn’t great; they have only won two Tests in South Africa since their latter’s readmission to international cricket in 1991-92. On the positive side, the two wins have actually come during India’s last two visits to the country, in 2006 and 2010. Can they go one step further and win the series this time?
In a sense, India are in a similar situation to the one they found themselves in prior to embarking on the tour to England a couple of seasons back. Then they were the number one team in the world, this time they are facing the number one team in the world. Another big coincidence is that, like on that occasion, this time as well they head abroad having achieved great heights at home. England managed to bring them down to reality rather embarrassingly. South Africa would look to do the same. Dhoni’s personnel may have changed since that disastrous tour to England, but the challenge remains the same. --By A Cricket Analyst