Prior to setting foot on Siachen glacier, the highest battlefield on the planet, Indian soldiers spend about three weeks on a base camp. They must attend an ‘acclimatisation programme’ to accustom their bodies to the new environment.
In the world of cricket, warm-up matches serve this purpose. These informal games, played against domestic sides, help visitors get used to the pitch and conditions before the series begins. MS Dhoni and his boys held a grand total of two practice sessions — each lasting two hours — before taking the field for the first ODI against South Africa in Johannesburg on December 5. The result: a 141-run pummelling. Three days later, they suffered yet another loss, this time by 134 runs, in Durban. The series is as good as over and the best India can do is try and avoid a clean sweep.
So why didn’t Indian players ask for a practice game, you’d wonder. Truth is, Cricket South Africa had announced a full tour, replete with warm-up games, but BCCI chief N Srinivasan put his foot down and ensured the sojourn was reduced to a farce. Apparently, he wanted to put CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat in his place. For Lorgat had rubbed Srinivasan the wrong way during his time as ICC CEO.
But practice doesn’t always make a man perfect, does it? And in any case, no one expected the world’s No 1 ODI team to capitulate.
So why are they faring like schoolboys? Firstly, they are yet to come to terms with the pace, bounce and, of course, the quality of the South African attack. India have come here on the back of six straight ODI series wins, the last two achieved on docile strips where 350 was the norm. The same mighty batting line-up has been bowled out for 217 and 146 in the two games thus far.
Quite a few of these players — Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma included — had toured the Rainbow Nation with the India ‘A’ team earlier this year. They’d fared well on that trip because the pitches weren’t as juicy or bouncy. And now, they have come a cropper against the Steyns and Morkels.
If the batsmen have disappointed you, then the bowlers have upset you. All these months, Dhoni defended his bowlers, saying the wickets didn’t offer them any assistance. But hello, this is South Africa! Barring Mohammed Shami, no Indian bowler has looked like picking up a wicket on these helpful pitches.
Thankfully, they will play a two-day warm-up game (December 13-14) before the first Test starts on December 18. Whether or not it will help buck the trend remains to be seen.