The loss in Dehli completed a disastrous and ultimately humbling Test series for the Proteas.
Some have commended the fight shown by the South African batsmen in the second innings of the fourth Test against India. AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and Temba Bavuma showed the necessary ticker and technique to occupy the crease for lengthy periods. It was a bloody-minded effort that highlighted the group’s desperation to end the tour on a positive note.
Unfortunately, in the context of this game and the series as a whole, it was too little too late.
The Proteas failed to show the same focus and determination in the first innings of this Test. The batsmen failed to apply themselves for much in the series. In the end, India won the series 3-0. South Africa won’t take heart from the solitary draw in Bengaluru, as the result was determined by the inclement weather.
India were made to fight for the result of the fourth Test on days four and five. Perhaps it said more about India that they eventually clinched victory in the final session. After all, they had already wrapped up the series in Nagpur. They had already ended South Africa’s run of nine years without a series defeat away from home. There wasn’t much at stake in Delhi for Virat Kohli’s men.
There are a few South African players who will go into the next Test series against England with their heads held high. The bowlers did a good job in India, even more so when you consider that Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander missed three of the four Tests.
Bavuma taught the more experienced batsmen a thing or two about temperament. As for De Villiers, this series served to highlight the widely held belief that there’s nothing he can’t do. De Villiers was South Africa’s best batsman on show, even if he didn’t play with as much freedom and authority, even he repressed a desire to play his natural game.
De Villiers should be commended for standing up in trying circumstances. The batting collective, however, should come in for criticism.
For much of the series, the failure of the top order placed De Villiers under pressure. South Africa’s samurai sword was blunted to the point where it was little more than a bludgeon. Some celebrated De Villiers’s defiant stand in the second innings in Delhi. For me, it only highlighted the problems in the South African batting lineup. De Villiers reduced to scoring 43 off 297 balls. It’s not right.
Can the South African coaching staff resolve these issues before the Proteas tackle England in Durban on 26 December? The conditions will suit the Proteas bowlers in that first Test. We should see Steyn, Philander, and Morné Morkel used to good effect. However, will we see the batsmen making a statement in the first of four Tests against the old enemy, or will it be left to De Villiers to play a contained innings once more?
The opening batsmen will come under scrutiny in that series. Bavuma showed some heart in India, but his future may be down the order. The same is true of Stiaan van Zyl. Dean Elgar battled for consistency in India, and will be under pressure to score some runs against England.
The Proteas will need Amla, De Villiers, and Du Plessis to make big contributions in that series. Crucially, Amla and Du Plessis have to find form if the Proteas are to get the best out of De Villiers. If Amla and Du Plessis succeed in laying the platform, then De Villiers will have the opportunity to dominate.
The result in India brought the Proteas back down to earth. They remain the No-1 ranked side in the world, but their physical and mental vulnerabilities have been exposed.
It’s taken the better part of four matches for their batsmen to remember that Test wins are hard-earned. In the wash-up of the series in India, they must admit to themselves that they could fought harder and performed with more consistency over the course of the four-game rubber.
There should be no whinging about the Indian conditions (indeed, the Indian spinners haven’t received nearly enough credit for their accuracy and persistence). There should be no bold statements about how a return to South Africa pitches will see them regaining everybody’s respect.
The Proteas batsmen will have to fight for every inch in the series against England. Plenty of hard work lays ahead for a team that has to rebuild its reputation as a world-class and combative outfit. Sadly, they were neither world-class nor especially combative in India.