It is said that every defeat teaches you something and this is best illustrated in one of the finest films ever made – “Seven Samurai”. In this film, directed by Akira Kurosawa, Kambei, the leader of the seven protagonists in the film talks about the value of defeats, what they have taught him and in the end he utilizes the experience to become victorious. The Indian cricket team faces a similar situation right now. It has been well and truly hammered in the first one-day match by the South African team that on the particular day played far better than their Indian counterparts.
Like any other defeat this one will affect the Indian team badly as well but there are some important lessons that Dhoni may have learnt from this rather sordid loss:
Practice games are a must: The Indian team was pretty confident at the start of the tour that it would be able to cope with the pace and bounce in South Africa but they had probably discounted the monumental difference in conditions and overestimated the series against West Indies as a way of preparing against one of the finest teams in world cricket – South Africa. The BCCI should have been careful and asked for a couple of practice games before the series. These games could have helped the players get prepared properly after a series against an out of form team on mostly placid tracks back home. The bowlers, especially the spinners, may have understood what length they needed to bowl on these wickets.
Two spinners may not work: Nowadays most teams prepare wickets in a way that can be disconcerting for the visiting team. It is common knowledge that Indian batsmen struggle when confronted with high pace and bounce. So, the wickets have been prepared similarly as well and will offer a lot more assistance to fast bowlers than they normally do. In such circumstances, Dhoni needs to understand that his ploy of employing his spin bowlers may not work and he needs to revisit his strategy in that regard. It is here that he will be missing Irfan Pathan a lot. One feels that Praveen Kumar could have been chosen considering his capability to play as a seam bowling allrounder. It would have given Dhoni more options to play with.
Seamers need to perform better: Indian seam bowlers are normally used to playing on tracks which are dead as doorbells and have nothing in store for them. So they have to use a lot of variations in terms of pace. However, in pitches like South Africa, and also Australia, there is assistance for bowlers and the wickets are harder. So, they need to bend their backs a little more and hit the deck harder. Also, it is very important to maintain a consistent line and length as in most cases the wicket can do the rest. The quicker bowlers in the Indian team need to understand that a lot depends on their performance and if they cannot perform on helpful tracks like the ones in South Africa, they may have to make way for others.
Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma should play: Both Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma should play from the second match onwards. Umesh has the pace and Ishant gets the bounce that can be disconcerting for South African batsmen. This could mean that Mohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja may have to sit it out. Mohit Sharma is a decent bowler but he is more suited to spongy and slow wickets in the Indian subcontinent where his lack of pace and frequent change-ups make him hard to get away. He is, at best, a containing bowler and such bowlers normally do not have a great record in countries like South Africa and Australia where the hard and bouncy nature of wickets means too many changes of pace as well as a lack of pace could be serious impediments.
Batsmen should be a little more circumspect: In the first ODI both De Kock and Amla took their time before they started to cart around the Indian bowling. The Indian openers, especially Dhawan, need to understand to take note of this. They should respect the fact that they are facing the best bowling attack in the world right now and should give themselves some time before they start displaying their bravado. It is not a matter of skill but more of intent and concentration.
It would be a bit too early to say that the Indian team will lose both the series even after the huge defeat in the first match. In all fairness, the team played its first match there and was primarily getting accustomed over there and it can be expected that they will bounce back in the matches ahead. This optimism is based on the fact that India, under MS Dhoni, has accomplished it before and, one hopes, would be able to repeat the performance.
The Indian team has been ranked first in ODIs for some time now and it has had some commendable performances in the last few months, including winning the last Champions Trophy ever. It could be expected that after the humiliating loss in the first match they would be chomping at the bits to come out and prove the naysayers wrong and show that their performances in the past few months have not exactly been flashes in the pan. This should make for an exciting series, at least for the true cricket connoisseur.