Touted as the next 'Fab Four' of Indian cricket, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara boarded the plane to South Africa with high hopes of replicating their overwhelming success on home soil overseas. But only two of them returned with some statistical gains.
No doubt that the experience of playing the world's best pace attack and the No. 1 Test team will oil India's young batting machinery, but the fact that India squandered an opportunity to win in the first Test and then slipped from a solid start in the second will hurt for a while.
A 0-0 result in skimpy two-Test series would have been satisfying for a Test squad learning to travel without the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. But due to some scrappy performance with the bat in the second Test at Durban, India will return home having lost both the ODI and the Test series.
But there are no villains here, for this was an experience on which India will have to build in New Zealand, England and Australia that they will tour next. It's just that some showed that they are fast learners, while the others are taking their time.
After this tour, there's hardly any doubt left that in the next 6-7 years India's batting flag will be carried forward by Kohli and Pujara. Kohli, who almost got a century in each innings of the first Test (119 and 96), scored 272 runs at an average of 68, including a century and a fifty. Pujara too scored a hundred and a half-century apiece, but got eight more than Kohli to top the Indian batting charts with 280 runs at an average of 70.
In contrast, Dhawan scored 13, 15, 29 and 19 while Rohit's four innings read 14, 6, 0, 25. Perhaps where Kohli and Pujara outclassed their team-mates was in their approach on the crease.
Kohli is known to play an aggressive band of cricket and never forgets to return in equal measure. But the Delhi batsman left his aggressive attitude in the dressing room when he came out to bat in Wanderers. Dale Steyn & Co tried their best - both with words and some rib snorters - to rattle Kohli, but he didn't flinch and uncharacteristically never gave it back.
That focus allowed him to prove his mettle with 119 and take another giant step in Test cricket after his hundred in Australia in 2012. He came out wearing the same gown in the second innings and almost got another hundred in a huge partnership with Pujara, before falling prey to JP Duminy for 96.
Pujara, known for his ability to concentrate for hours, once again proved that he is Test cricket's hottest batting property at this point in time. He followed his 153 at Wanderers with 70 in the first innings at Durban, proving yet again that he is the heir apparent to Dravid at No. 3.
In contrast to the focus shown by Kohli and Pujara, Rohit, who looked in on the crucial fifth day in the decider at Durban, got into a verbal duel with Steyn and eventually lost his concentration to fall lbw to Philander.
On the other hand, Dhawan's problem was not unwanted retaliation; it was his failure to gauge the South African conditions and wickets. He never looked himself at Wanderers where the spongy bounce had him hopping, while at Durban he curbed his attacking instincts a bit too much to allow the South Africans to sort him out. It was apparent that failure in the ODIs was playing on his mind in Tests as well, which is where perhaps he lost the battle.
In fact, Ajinkya Rahane gave a better account of himself compared to the much fancied Rohit and Dhawan. He was the third Indian batsman - after Pujara and Kohli - to score more than 200 runs and was unlucky to miss out on his maiden century by just four runs while fighting to save the Test at Kingsmead.
Rahane scored 209 at an average of 69.66, including two fifties, and will come back much satisfied from his personal gains, although he would have loved to do it in a winning cause.
But there is no need to drop the jaws as this is a young team that will only learn. True that winning is a habit and that's what takes the team to a different level, but a team in transition can't do it overnight. And that's the scale on which we need to measure this team's performance overseas in the next 12 months.
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