The recently concluded 72-day tour to India was the longest ever undertaken by a South African team to the subcontinent.
The shorter formats of the game went well for the Proteas. There was plenty of travel and excitement, with the razzmatazz that goes with playing care-free cricket that we all understand is good one day and poor the next.
Performances are forgotten almost overnight, as the travelling circus moves from venue to venue. Bowlers mostly get hammered and batsmen make merry. South Africa came out trumps in the T20s and ODIs.
Then came the proper cricket. New players arrived to take up the challenge and joined a joyous few who stayed on. India revealed their cunning strategy from day one. It caught us by surprise. A select few expected the pitches to spin as much as they did from ball one.
Each Test of the series saw the Proteas lurch from disaster to disaster, with little time to recover. As the defeats piled up and the Test series was lost, the pressure to produce something that would at least recover some pride was evident.
Despite their dismal performances, South Africa weren’t going to surrender meekly and catch the first flight out. Their plan to defend until the bitter end, particularly in Delhi, went some way towards achieving the above objective.
In 1836 a famous battle took place at the Alamo between the Texan and Mexican army. The Texans were outnumbered and outgunned and fought for all they were worth.
However, in the end they succumbed.
AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis gave their best to stave off inevitable defeat at the hands of India in the fourth Test.
However, it was the Alamo of India.
The Proteas were simply outplayed and outsmarted over the past month.
In the end, the records will show that the Test segment of the tour for South Africa was nothing less than a disaster of serious proportions.
The Delhi Test was lost by 337 runs despite De Villiers and Amla facing 541 balls between them. Not a single century was scored by any South African and only two half centuries were recorded.
Moreover, they only managed to once score more than 200 runs in an innings. Who would have thought that when the past records of those who were selected are scrutinised? Definitely not me. Such was the absolute domination of the Indian spinners that the battle scars will be forever felt.
The question is whether this series will take its toll on some of those who made the journey. My belief is that it will and, as such, there are likely to be casualties from the fallout.
However, we must remember that Amla as captain was deprived of his two strike bowlers. Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander have performed amazing feats with the new ball over the last few years and when Kyle Abbott showed how he could breach the defences of the Indian top-order, I wondered what Steyn would have done with the cherry, had he been fit.
That said, 32-year-old Amla had a tour to forget. Other than his defiant final innings, his run-scoring was pitiful, as was his catching. He is a fine player and is probably right up there with the best our country has ever seen, but I don’t believe the Test captaincy rests easily on his slender shoulders. At times, his use of spin was criticised by in those in the commentary – men who have seen more games of Test cricket than most. Amla will need to work through what suits him best before England arrive in South Africa for the Test series later this month.
On the plus side, the young Temba Bavuma was thrust into the opening batting role as a last resort and appears to be a real talent. However, caution is the buzzword when it comes to thrusting him into an unfamiliar position against quality fast bowlers on local pitches. Meanwhile, Dean Elgar did enough to show he’s up for a scrap and adds value with the ball.
The wicketkeeping berth will see a change for sure. My guess is that either Quinton de Kock or Thami Tsolekile will start against England. The spin department enjoyed successes, but overall they got caught up in trying to match the likes of Ravichandran Ashwin in taking wickets. Not enough pressure was built by drying up runs and closing an end down for long periods. Again, learning on the job in India is not for the faint hearted. Dane Piedt will get the nod come England, and Imran Tahir will go back to being the shorter version specialist.
What I believe the Proteas are really lacking is a bowling all-rounder. In the not too distant past, we could bump a tree and good few would fall out. The likes of Brian McMillan, Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and of course the prince of all-rounders, Jacques Kallis, spring to mind. That is a massive hole to fill, and it forces South Africa into having an extended tail.
The Indian sojourn has asked many questions of South African cricket and those in charge of will do well to take notice. This era has many wonderful players from which to choose, but most of them are now in the autumn of their careers. The over-thirty club now has many members. Staying at the cutting edge of international cricket is hard work and while some may have escaped from the Alamo this time around, England will certainly be no pushovers.
(This article also appears on News24)