On paper this series resembled India’s tour of England in 2011. Big expectation, No. 1 side to be tested over a long period of time by the hosts, the No. 1 side loses its No. 1 bowler in the first Test, it competes for a Test and a half, and is then run ragged. The key feature of both the assaults on the best side in the world at that moment was the complete decapitation of their batting units. Except for Rahul Dravid then and AB de Villiers now, the rest played as if they were facing ghosts and not bowlers.
That is where comparisons end. India struggled on normal English pitches. South Africa have had to face extreme conditions, the most recent parallel to which is what India encountered in New Zealand in 2002-03. The ICC officiating team – match referee and the umpires – has labelled Nagpur “poor”. Mohali was on the borderline. Bangalore was good, but who knows how it would have turned out had the week in the lead-up to the Test seen some sun?
While India have won, they have spent every breathing minute in public defending the pitches as opposed to basking in what should have been the glory of beating the best travellers of Test cricket in recent history. South Africa will want to provide another difference between the two series by competing hard once the series is lost whereas back in 2011 the bruised and battered best side in the world just sleepwalked through a whitewash.
There is no time for Delhi to react to ICC’s verdict, which arrived about 40 hours before the toss. Daljit Singh, the artist who gave us Mohali, has been overseeing Delhi too, and after Ravi Shastri’s proclamation he wanted something similar to Nagpur, it is hard to expect a much better track. If it turns out to be better, it won’t be for a lack of effort. The ground staff will be caught between a rock and a hard place: the team wants a replica of Nagpur, the ICC has called it poor. A part of them must be wishing the High Court hadn’t intervened and kept the Test at Feroz Shah Kotla after financial irregularities in the organising association nearly resulted in losing Delhi the match.