South African supporters were warned. As humbling as it sounds, 5-1 was a reflection of the respective approaches from the number one and two sides in 50-over international cricket. Well, former number one and two, who have now become number two and top dog, respectively.
The Proteas prefixed their flawed one-day series against India by stating that they would try new things. They came into this series looking to learn a bit more about themselves. India accurately scouted an opportunity to win their maiden series on South African soil.
If you ask them who they played against, they will tell you that De Villiers, Du Plessis, Rabada, Amla and Morris and Morkel were all part of that series.
They will tell you that they, too, had an attack comprising of two wrist-spinners that had never been here before and that their batsmen were still supposedly reeling from a bruising Test series.
India will also tell you that they chased totals with impunity, not overawed by the size of the task – even early in the series.
So, what did we learn?
Well, the biggest lesson for South African cricket is that facing wrist-spin remains an Achilles heel of note, even in 2018. To be even more specific, slow wrist-spin makes South African batsmen look as if they are trudging cricketing treacle at times as they search desperately for a bit more urgency on the ball.
For some reason, Imran Tahir’s pace has increased over the years, a by-product of his South African diet of hard, bouncy wickets. He skids onto the bat, taking his wickets by castling batsmen or trapping them in front. South Africa’s batters, in turn, have become accustomed to lapping the likes of Tahir, using their pace, and hitting them off their length as if they were medium-pacers who moved the ball each way.
The young Indians that bamboozled South Africa unfurled a different bag of tricks. That bag was marked slow poison. It had confident, front-foot players lunging for the ball and would-be straight drives deflecting to expertly placed mid-wickets and short covers.
India knew what they were up against. For South African batters, this 5-1 defeat was a lesson, one that re-emphasised the need to arm yourself for the genuinely turning ball. Lesson learnt, you would hope.
What else did we learn?
Well, Pretoria’s answer to Jonny Bairstow, Heinrich Klaasen, is a welcome addition to the ranks. He bats fearlessly, keeps tidily and embraces the pressure moments.
His contributions were surely a reminder to the other national keeper, who is currently nursing his mitts in Knysna, that the chasing pack is closing in. It’s time to get back on the horse.
There are players in the franchise system who are good. They dominate domestically and their performances demand higher honours. Some of those players realised how steep the incline is to international cricket.
The margins are ridiculously small, especially when bowling to players who can hit a length ball on off-stump anywhere between back-ward point and square-leg, depending on their fancy. Those new caps will tell you that they learnt more in the past fortnight than in the past four years.
Finally, the sincerest lesson learnt was that there will be matches, series even, when you meet the world’s best player in “that” mood. It doesn’t matter what you do or what you bowl, when a Virat Kohli is in “that” mood, he is irresistible.
The Indian captain is the greediest chaser in world cricket. When he finally rests his flashing blade, he may well be the greatest chaser of all time.If South Africans had forgotten, Kohli reminded them of his sedulous potency. He doesn’t slog. He doesn’t rely on boundaries. He embraces pace and spin. And, when he has the bit between his teeth, you can forget about it. South Africa – and any other country, mind you – can plan all they want. But, if they meet Kohli in this mood in a World Cup crunch game, they will be in serious trouble.
At 5-1, lessons were certainly learnt.