AB de Villiers celebrates his run out which resulted in Rohit Sharma's dismissal in the second test against India. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

The International Cricket Council’s rankings may still have India at number one but having lost to South Africa with a game to spare in the three-match series between the teams, it is a ranking that is now discredited.

Instead of the smooth, well-oiled machine many had anticipated in this series, including the players themselves, the Indians have been closer to a shambles.

Selection has been puzzling, the fielding downright awful and with the exception of two excellent performances by Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya, their batting has been all talk and no show.

Only the seam bowling has impressed, but even in that category they’ve made mistakes that have allowed South Africa off the hook.

Naturally India’s preparation has been scrutinised. They arrived in the country later than originally expected, chose not to play a warm-up game, and now in hindsight, that seems like very bad planning.

India have played at home almost exclusively in the last two years. In that period, starting in August 2015, they have played and won nine series. Six of those have been in India, and of the away tours, two were in Sri Lanka and one in the West Indies, regions with very similar conditions to those in India.

It now seems irresponsible from those in charge of India’s preparations that they didn’t play at least one warm-up game, even if just to get the players running around and the competitive juices flowing.

It would have meant that they could have assessed certain players too; Shikhar Dhawan could have done with a run before the first Test and if not, then KL Rahul would have been given a better chance to acclimatise. Ajinkya Rahane would also have had a chance to stake a claim.

Rahane, the vice-captain, averages 53.44 away from home and has Test centuries in England and Australia, and based on form in the last year, he’s been deemed surplus to the starting spot in this series, with Rohit Sharma at No5.

Rohit Sharma is not a Test No5, not in conditions outside of the sub-continent certainly, and with India picking a number of all-rounders in their starting teams for the first two Tests here, Sharma at No5 is just too fragile a player.

For the Wanderers Test starting on Wednesday, it would come as a shock if Rahane doesn’t start.

India need six frontline batsmen in South African conditions and if the selectors are such big supporters of Sharma, as seems to be the case, then putting him at No6 with Rahane at No5 is a better way to go.

The Wanderers pitch is expected to be fast and bouncy, as is usual, making the need for a spinner perhaps unnecessary.

In South Africa’s case, given that they’ve already won the series, it would be easier to leave out Keshav Maharaj and probably play an extra batsman with four seamers.

For India, the decision on whether to start Ravi Ashwin will be harder, simply because he’s been one of their best batsmen - their third highest run-scorer in the first two Tests, in fact.

What the Indians have learned in the last few weeks is that touring is not as easy as many of them had made it out to before they came here.

There was a lot of chatter from players in the squad and many former Indian players about 2018 being the best opportunity for India to win a series in South Africa.

That is not the case, and with tours to England and Australia on the horizon for them, 2018 is looming as a very tough year, and that No1 ranking will look increasingly fraudulent.

Sunday Independent

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