Cape Town fairytale shouldn't brush aside India's batting woes

Virat Kohli proved to be the only consistent batter for India throughout the series
Virat Kohli proved to be the only consistent batter for India throughout the series

Indian captain Rohit Sharma ran towards Shreyas Iyer in pure elation as the latter smashed Marco Jansen down the ground to complete a historic win for the visitors. The Indian team became the first Asian team to clinch a Test win at Newlands. The victory also helped them complete a spirited comeback after being blown away in Centurion.

However, if the visitors are to take any lessons from the series in a nutshell, they don't need to look further than the four deliveries that Iyer faced before hitting the winning runs. An out-of-sync attempt from Iyer at playing a pull shot, followed by an uncomfortable fending away of a short delivery, was just a glimpse of the fact that India's batting in South Africa has left much to be desired.

The pitch wasn't up to the standards of Test cricket for many in the cricketing community and the fact that the game ended in 642 balls spoke volumes about everything that was wrong in the track. While it makes India's win even sweeter, they shouldn't forget what happened at Centurion.

A helpless Virat Kohli could only watch India collapse from the other end

With 172 runs from two Tests, Virat Kohli showed signs of getting back to his very best in Tests. His brilliant knock of 76 in the second innings at Centurion showed that the pitch wasn't really as tough as the other Indian batters made it look. It was once again a shining light in a rather shambolic batting performance.

The meek surrender in the second innings began with an absolute beauty from Kagiso Rabada to Rohit Sharma. While it was a great delivery, one can argue that Rohit played the line and didn't anticipate the movement, only to see his stumps rattled.

Yashasvi Jaiswal's hard hands couldn't stop him from gloving a delivery with an extra bounce from Nandre Burger. While the batters felt the pressure of being far behind in the game, Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer could have done better than playing all around a straight ball and getting cleaned up.

After a sensational hundred in the first innings, getting frustrated with dot balls and going after a wide delivery in the second essay was unlike what one would expect from KL Rahul. The batter repeated the same mistake in Cape Town in the second innings, in what was the start of the most astonishing batting collapse one has ever witnessed.

Kohli himself was a part of that collapse, but a batter who looked in complete control of his innings at 153/4 certainly felt the urgency to score as many as possible at 153/7.

The common point between the collapses in Centurion and Cape Town? A distraught Virat Kohli, who could do nothing about it, just like a certain Sachin Tendulkar might have felt all those years ago. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill showed great promise in their 30s, but it is an unsaid rule that set batters need to make the most of their starts after doing all the hard work.

India eventually won the game comfortably but missed the opportunity to forge an innings defeat in Cape Town to return South Africa their favor from Centurion.

Rohit Sharma tried to justify rank-turners, but at what cost?

In the post-match press conference, Rohit Sharma claimed that the ICC match referees differentiated unfairly between the rank-turners in India and the seaming pitches overseas. While his mini-tirade was brave in a way and gained a lot of traction, the point that needs to be shed light on is how the pitches back home affect the Indian batters themselves.

In five Test matches that Rohit played from the start of 2019 to the end of 2020 at home, he scored 556 runs at a staggering average of 92.66. While he has been fantastic in the 2021-2023 period as well on rank-turners, the average has still dropped to 45.13 in 10 Tests in this period.

Virat Kohli, during the 2019-2020 period, had a mind-boggling average of 113.25 in five matches. That too dipped alarmingly to 34.47 in 11 Tests in the 2021-2023 period. While his form might have also played a role in the drop-off, India's ploy to produce rank-turners has somewhere affected the batters' confidence.

The lack of confidence led to a lack of temperament, the result of which was seen in the World Test Championship final as well as the two Tests in South Africa. Since 2021, the averages of the likes of Shubman Gill (32.07 in 8 Tests) and Shreyas Iyer (39.09 in 7 Tests) also suggest a possible lack of confidence due to not having many big scores under their belt before a testing South Africa tour.

What can India do at home to address their concerns with bat?

While the focus of the Indian team should remain on getting as many wins as possible at home, they should also realize quickly that lesser the time their batters get in the middle, the tougher it could be for their next overseas Test tour Down Under.

The selectors seemed to have moved on from veterans like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, investing their trust in the inexperienced but talented players. The next part of the transition should be to back players like Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill to come good in the upcoming five Tests at home against England.

Shreyas Iyer's ability to play spin will certainly be monumental for the hosts. But with KL Rahul having scored a fantastic hundred, the two batters should be looked at closely with Rishabh Pant's potential comeback not far away.

India have earlier beaten Australia at the Gabba with a largely inexperienced team. However, if they want to make it a hat-trick of Test series wins Down Under, they will need to ensure that their batters get enough experience and opportunities to have runs under their belt in the next 10 home Tests.

While the bowling was poor at Centurion, the batting has always played a major role in several famous wins for India away from home. The Cape Town win was surely special. But with that, India should also have a sense of a lost opportunity to win a maiden Test series in South Africa.

They need to pull up their socks to ensure they don't get a similar feeling, of a lost opportunity, in Australia at the turn of 2025.

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Edited by Vaishnavi Iyer
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