If the hastily organised series against Sri Lanka was meant to prepare the Indian team for the tough tour of South Africa, it could be said that the exercise has been a ‘glorious’ failure.
Glorious because the whole series will seem a phantasmagorical experience when the South Africans come hard at the Indian team during the away series starting in a few days’ time. All these easy six-hitting run feasts, record-making centuries and clutch of wickets will seem like a distant dream when South Africa’s fast bowlers get into the thick of action.
Frankly, what do the bloated results tell of an opponent who loses by 93 runs in the first T20I and then by 88 runs in the next game? T20 matches are, by design, meant to be close affairs. The large margin one-sided victories are supposed to be the exception, not the norm.
Particularly worrying is that India have registered these huge wins despite being disadvantaged by having to bowl second with a wet, dew-soaked ball.
But for the slippery nature of these wet balls, India’s bowlers and fielders’ performance would have been far more emphatic. And that’s the terrifying thought: India have been preparing to go for war against men by sparring with mere toddlers!
The margins of victory are the giveaway. Imagine what would have been the extent of damage if India’s bowlers had gone after the Lankans with a dry ball! The defeat would have been as inglorious as those suffered by Kenya, who lost by 172 runs; Scotland, who were beaten by 130 runs; Afghanistan, who were trounced by 116 or even Canada, who were eclipsed by 109 runs!
None of them are cricketing nations and their loss by massive margins to Test-playing nations was only to be expected.
But Sri Lanka too losing as miserably to India cannot be good for Indian cricket itself. It smacks of preparing the players against weak opposition. It is guaranteed to lull the team into a false feeling of superiority. Of course, all such feeling will quickly disappear in South Africa, but not before the team members are woken up by a rude shock.
Blasting Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel or Kagiso Rabada, or even Vernon Philander, out of the park will be distinctly a more challenging prospect than hammering slow medium pace merchants Angelo Mathews or Thisara Perera. The latter set of bowlers were innocuous while the Proteas would be express-fast and would threaten to knock the batsman’s head off with ferocious bouncers.
It is in this context that India’s matches against Sri Lanka have not prepared the Indian teams for the hard knocks to be expected in South Africa.
India’s preparation on low-bounce pitches will be exposed almost immediately on the upcoming tour. The bouncier South African tracks will lead to the ball hitting the splice of Indian batsmen’s willow rather than the sweet spot. Therein lies the start of the issues.
It could be argued that India could have prepared bouncy tracks at home. But then Lanka don’t have bowlers of express speed and asking the slow medium pace bowlers Perera and Mathews to bowl on bouncy tracks would be as corny as driving a Formula One car on Bengaluru’s pot-holed and overcrowded roads.
Friday’s match was just as ridiculous. Of course, it is not the Indian team’s fault that they have been provided with such an effete opposition. They did what was expected from them by winning both matches. But slamming 260 for five wickets in 20 overs in the second T20I at Holkar Stadium was a bit rich. That total was got to at a monstrous run rate of 13 runs per over. It is unimaginable that South Africa’s pacemen would ever be treated in a similar vein by the Indian batsmen.
Mathews, Chameera and Perera were pedestrian in their approach and delivery. They bowled full tosses, half-volleys, short-pitched deliveries and an assortment of other poor deliveries to get carted around the field. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were, at one stage, targeting the first floor of the stands for the big hits and there was nothing the Lankan bowlers could do about it. This is an unheard of luxury in international cricket when fast bowlers usually hunt down batsmen with venom.
On Friday, peculiarly there was a role reversal: the India batsmen went after the bowlers and the latter simply collapsed.
The win was not just a one-sided result. It was an indictment of the sort of opponents lined up for the Indian team prior to its challenging tour of South Africa.
These facile wins over Sri Lanka, pleasing though they might seem, are hardly the recipe for success in South Africa. On the other hand, these victories might have just papered over cracks. We’ll know, come January.
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