India is winning, but not quite turning the corner
Indian cricket’s big win in South Africa is historic, and yet underwhelming
To call India’s one-day international series win against South Africa historic will be no exaggeration. This is the first time that India has won a bilateral series in South Africa. The victories were crushing; India emphatically dominated the series; and India’s control over the proceedings is evident from the 4-1 score line with one game still left to play.
Virat Kohli has been in thrilling form. He is now notching up records in the way a frequent flier clocks up air miles. After being infuriatingly poor, Rohit Sharma won India the fifth game. Both he and Shikhar Dhawan have shown that, were they to be consistent, India could have the most fearsome opening batting combination in the limited-overs game. The real delightful surprise, though, has come in the form of the two wrist spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. The duo has put on a stunningly incisive performance. They have accounted for 30 of the 41 wickets India have taken in the five games of the series. Without rich experience, in alien conditions, they have been the real difference between the two sides.
Why, then, does it not feel as though a corner has been turned? Why doesn’t it feel as epochal as the win in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket? Or, at least, like the Natwest Trophy in 2002? Well, for starters, India has now acquired what in sport is known as the winning habit. They came to South Africa as the world’s No 2 ODI side. They now are No 1. We expect India to win. Second, while you can only play the opposition you are given, this South Africa side has been severely diminished by AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis not being always available. But what leaves the lingering aftertaste of feeling underwhelmed is that, had Kohli not been stubborn and got his team selection right in the Test series , had he not dropped Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the second and Ajinkya Rahane in the first two Tests, India might have won the Test series. Now, that would have felt like turning a corner.