Tamest Indian team to ever visit South Africa: Cullinan | Cricket

When India embarked on the South African tour last month, not many believed they would come home with a wooden spoon, having lost the three-Test, three-ODI series without much of a struggle. The tour, which started off explosively thanks to an all-encompassing press conference by then Test skipper Virat Kohli, ended in a wail for India. At the end of the Test series, Kohli relinquished his captaincy at the red ball, leaving a leadership gap in Indian cricket.

The change in format could not change the fate of India. Led by stand-in skipper KL Rahul, India stumbled to a 3-0 whitewash, underscoring their waning grip in white-ball cricket.

Former South African batter Daryll Cullinan, a veteran of 70 Tests and 138 ODIs, thinks the pack led by Kohli and Rahul was the tamest Indian team to visit South Africa. He spoke in detail about the reasons for South Africa’s success and why India faltered.


South Africa did not have the services of Anrich Nortje, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander for the Test series. Did you expect them to beat India so convincingly in both formats?

The lack of star players was accepted and mentioned by Dean Elgar at the start of the series, even though players like Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock are big players. The difference between the two sides was the real all-round effort we put in. If you look at the Test series, India has two 100s, South Africa has none. India received three fifers, South Africa none. But they provided a better all-round performance. The worst thing that happened to India, in hindsight, was to win the first test because they seemed complacent afterwards. They didn’t play good cricket and had too many top players out of form. SA really came into its own as a team.

Many people believed that this was India’s best chance to win their first test series in South Africa.

It probably was, and I should add that this was probably the most talked-about Indian side. They were expected to just come here and roll us over. But in the end they were quite tame. In fact, this was the tamest Indian team to come here. Anyone can speculate on the reasons, but overall I think it was a combination of poor form and loose cricket from India. They didn’t do the basics right. There were few notable partnerships, the batters didn’t spend enough time on the crease, and the bowlers didn’t pitch well in partnerships. I also think they made some choices wrong. India made a mistake by not picking Ishant Sharma who could have held a butt. In the end, Ashwin didn’t do much.

Do you think Elgar’s 96 in Johannesburg changed the course of the tour, especially as SA was lagging behind in the Test series at the time?

Secure. The turning point of the Test series was Elgar’s brawl in the second innings of the second Test, where he let his bat do the talking. He really set the marker for the rest of the team. As the series went on, Rabada reacted with the ball and took important wickets.

SA played better cricket and did the basics well. In both the Test and ODI series, there were moments when India could have taken the match by the scruff of the neck, but they failed at those key moments, either by losing a wicket or not bowling well in partnerships.

Indian spinners were completely caught off guard by their SA counterparts, especially in the ODIs. Did you expect that?

That was a surprise. Tabraiz Shamsi is not there to stop runs, but to take wickets, which is what he did so well. Keshav Maharaj is an experienced smart operator. It was good for Aiden Markram to bowl the number of overs he did, especially considering he didn’t get too many runs. He proved that he can be a very handy third spinner for South Africa.

Indian spinners lacked the fizz and spins we saw in the 2018 series which is why the wickets didn’t come.

Both teams had very good pacers, but the South African speeds took more out of the surface. Why?

It may seem that South African pacemakers were probably a tad faster than the Indians, but I don’t think so. Each of SA’s three pacers bowled better. The next best was Mohammed Shami. SA didn’t beat India with pace. It was the jump and movement that alarmed India. Also, SA quicks were much more consistent. Indian sailors, like their batters, were impatient. They didn’t stick to the plans and gave way too many loose balls. The kind of scores SA was chasing in the Test series was largely due to poor bowling from India.

SA attacked India more after the first Test, especially with the short ball. The quicks changed their length and became short, short, fuller. In the first Test they were fuller, fuller, shorter. In the end SA outsmarted India.

In Keegan Peterson, Marco Jansen and Rassie van der Dussen, South Africa seems to have found some really good players.

I think Peterson is a promising prospect, as is Jansen. We must not forget, however, that Jansen bowled on bowler-friendly wickets. His real test is bowling on stroke-friendly lanes. Peterson, of course, hit very well on wickets that weren’t exactly hit-friendly. I’d like to see them play outdoors before they pass judgment. As of now, they both seemed equipped to make a long career for themselves if they stayed fit and hungry.

Rassie van der Dussen is a very smart one-day player with a solid temperament. His ability to keep the ball on the ground for long periods of time and only get in the air when necessary makes him difficult to dislodge. He is an excellent accumulator and we saw his class in the way he played the slower bowlers. He neutralized the Indian spinners, especially Chahal, and once the leg spinner was brought down I think the series was decided.

What do you think of Elgar and Bavuma’s leadership?

Elgar led the way. His innings with the Wanderers was one of the best strokes I’ve seen in terms of guts, courage, tenacity and just the desire to persevere. He was really way ahead of the Indian batters that I didn’t think had the guts to fight. I think India missed Kohli, especially in the second test. Bavuma’s 100 was also a very good knock and would have given him a lot of confidence, both as a batter and captain. I think he has the respect of the team and their support.

What do you think of KL Rahul, the captain?

It’s too early to judge. He was only a stand-in skipper for three ODIs, but I think he should have hit in the middle order. He looks like a good player with a bright future. He’s received some criticism for his body language, but you don’t have to be demonstrative to be a good captain.


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