India’s tour of South Africa was the first big test for Virat Kohli’s men as they looked to prove their overseas credentials in 2018. After sweeping aside all that came before them at home on their way to the top of the Test rankings, the focus shifted to India’s first major overseas trip before tours of England and Australia later in the year.
They got off to a poor start with defeat in the first Test in Cape Town. When another defeat in Centurion followed that ended all hopes of a series win, the familiar feeling of doom and gloom – as has been the case in many previous overseas tours – surfaced.
Kohli’s selection policies came under fire as the exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane in favour of Rohit Sharma stuck out like a sore thumb. When Bhuvneshwar Kumar was dropped for the second Test, it seemed that Kohli had well and truly lost the plot.
Then came the victory in the final Test on a menacing track at the Wanderers and things started to look up again. Rahane and Bhuvneshwar both played important hands in that win, leading to even more questions about the previous selection policy.
With the tour now over after the completion of the ODIs and T20I series which India won, one can understand importance of the final Test win. The most impressive part of India’s performance – eight wins and four defeats overall – was the manner in which they were attained. Right from the very first ODI, India played a fearless and ruthless brand of cricket, a brand you would associate with the Australian sides of the early 2000s.
A maiden 50-over series win in South Africa was secured – by a margin of 5-1 – followed by a 2-1 triumph in the T20I series. India looked at home and it was the hosts who looked more like a touring side struggling to keep up.
The biggest factor that made India competitive, both in the Tests and the limited-overs clashes, was a world-class bowling unit, something the side has lacked for long.
Pacers were impressive in the red-ball format, while wrist-spinners grabbed the headlines in the white-ball matches. It was refreshing to see the Indians dismiss South Africa six times in as many innings in the Tests, a feat that deserves special praise.
With Virat Kohli at the peak of his powers and a bowling unit capable of thriving in almost any condition, India will fancy their chances of reaching greater heights when they travel to England and Australia later this year.
The shambolic loss at the hands of the arch-rivals spurred a wind of change for Virat Kohli’s team India. The skipper and team management had made up their minds – the era of finger spinners had come to an end as wrist-spinners began to rule the roost.
The likes of England’s Adil Rashid, Pakistan’s Shadab Khan and South Africa’s Imran Tahir had all finished ahead of Jadeja and Ashwin in the wicket-taking column for the global tournament. Jadeja picked up four wickets at the tournament at an average of over 62 while Ashwin’s sole wicket came at a painful average of 167.
So when India toured the West Indies after the Champions Trophy, the senior duo were dispensed of for the limited-overs clash with young Kuldeep Yadav being thrown into the deep end. The youngster performed more than admirably on the tour, picking up eight wickets in the four matches.
Since then, it has been Kuldeep and Yuzvendra Chahal who have become India’s two mainstay spinners in the format as series wins over Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand followed. The new wrist-spin twins are currently tearing it up on the hard surfaces of South Africa with 13 wickets them after the opening two ODIs.
In 19 ODIs so far, Chahal has picked up 34 wickets at an average of 21.88 and a strike-rate of 28.8. Similarly, Kuldeep has picked up 28 wickets at an average of 21.30 and a strike-rate of 27.3.
In comparison, Ashwin averages around 33 with a strike-rate of 40 after 111 matches while Jadeja averages 36 with a strike-rate nearing 44 after 136 matches.
The difference is crystal clear, India’s current spin pair are a more attacking outlet than the senior duo when it comes to taking wickets. Not only are the two wrist-spinners a far greater wicket-taking threat, they are also more economical than their senior counterparts.
With the wrist-spin duo only going from strength to strength, it seems the end of the road for Ashwin’s and Jadeja’s limited-overs career is near. The former is reportedly working on his leg-spin for the upcoming IPL, a sign of the times if one was ever needed.
As Aiden Markram took the reins of the South Africa side in the second ODI against India at his home ground in Centurion, parallels had already been drawn between his appointment and that of Graeme Smith in 2003.
Smith was just a 22-year-old when he was handed the Proteas captaincy and went on to become one of the finest skippers around in an 11-year tenure which lasted until 2014. Although, it has to be said, the gritty left-hander had 22 ODIs and a Test double-hundred under his belt after playing more than a year of international cricket before he made his captaincy bow.
In comparison, 23-year-old Markram had played in only two ODIs before Sunday’s clash against India. He does, however, have two Test tons under his name already having made six appearances in the format and more importantly, he remains the only South African to have won a World Cup in any age group.
Markram led South Africa to the ICC U-19 World Cup title in 2014, securing their maiden crown with a win against Pakistan in the finals. For a country which has notoriously underachieved in ICC tournaments, that win actually sticks out as an anomaly.
A natural leader, the Centurion-born man led the South Africa A side before being appointed skipper of the Titans in September last year. Being given the captaincy of a Titans outfit boasting the likes of Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar and Morne Morkel is no mean feat.
His appointment for the senior South Africa side has naturally divided opinions with many questioning his readiness for the job. The skepticism seems to be unwarranted though, for Markram’s ascension is not a short-term fix but rather some sensible long-term planning.
He might not even have been given the captaincy had AB de Villiers been fit. In fast-tracking Markram to the captaincy, South Africa are hoping to avoid a repeat of the post-Smith era which has seen the Hashim Amla and De Villiers juggle with the role before it finally settled with du Plessis last year in all formats.
With the latter now 32-years-old, it makes sense to groom Markram with an eye to promoting him to the full-time position ahead of the World Cup in England next year. While Smith’s appointment was one for the present at the time, Markram’s is one for the future.