Johannesburg - As alarming as the 5-1 margin of South Africa’s home defeat to India in the recently concluded one-day international series was, Lions coach Geoffrey Toyana does not believe it’s time to panic just yet.
The defeat was their biggest since Australia dealt out the same punishment in 2001.
After ceding momentum and losing the final Test in a three-match series last month, the Proteas have comfortably come out looking third best in a two-team contest.
Indian captain Virat Kohli, as well as wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal have been the matadors-in-chief.
In a ridiculously prolific series, Kohli was not out three times and scored 558 runs from six matches. His scoresheet includes three centuries and a 50, and an eye-watering average of 186 runs.
Yadav and Chahal bamboozled the hosts to the tune of 33 wickets, taking 17 and 16 wickets, respectively.
“I think Kohli has been superb and it’s been tough for South Africa,” said Toyana.
“It’s also been tough to judge because Faf du Plessis hasn’t played as a leader, AB de Villiers has just come back and Quinny (Quinton de Kock) got injured during the series.
“While it’s been a good opportunity for the likes of Aiden Markram, Khaya Zondo and Lungi Ngidi, they are still settling into international cricket. India has an established team and we’re still trying to give a lot of guys a chance. But to lose 5-1 is disappointing.”
Toyana said the defeat exposed how much the Proteas relied on Hashim Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis and De Kock for runs.
“Losing a series 5-1 will lead to a few key questions being asked. We haven’t batted well and there weren’t enough partnerships in the top six.
“To be bowled out for just over 100 and 200 at Centurion, a high-scoring ground, wasn’t good enough. It shows that those four senior batters have been key for us and we’ve depended on them. While the likes of Klaasen, Markram and Zondo are promising, they are still finding their feet.”
Toyana was curious about whether the balance of the Proteas was right yet. He wondered if the all-rounder problem created by Jacques Kallis’ retirement years ago was close to being solved.
“Going forward, the key will be how they balance the side with their all-rounders,” he explained.
“Do you go with (Andile) Phehlukwayo or (Chris) Morris, or both? At the moment, it looks as though Phehlukwayo is in pole position to be one of them. It looks as though whoever between Morris, Dwaine Pretorius, Wiaan Mulder or Jason Smith pops up in the next year will be the other all-rounder.
“The series defeat means there is competition for spots all the way through the team.”
Another competition that selectors will have to keep an eye on is that between wrist spinners Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi.
Neither had a great series against India and, if Proteas coach Ottis Gibson’s utterance about how the pitches in England don’t take much spin is anything to go by, it would appear that only one of them will make it to next year’s World Cup tournament.
“If you look at the Indian wrist spinners, they out-bowled ours in our own conditions. But I like what they’re doing with Shamsi - they are phasing him in and maybe phasing out Immy, who will be 40 next year,” said Toyana.
He was more encouraged about the experiment to make Markram the stand-in captain in Du Plessis’ absence.
“He’s a really good leader and he was up against it in this series, but he is one for the future. We need to be patient and give him time to understand his game at this level.
“We should back him and even try to make him vice-captain to Faf. He learns quickly and is a born leader.”
Looking at Gibson’s stated intent to create a winning side for the World Cup, Toyana said there was more than enough time to build a competent side.
“Maybe it’s not such a bad thing we’re losing series now because we used to win them and lose the World Cup in the past. It’s a long way to the World Cup and, as we get closer to it, we should be having 14 core players who will make us a settled side like India and England.”
Not that the Proteas will have much time to breathe, what with the three-match T20 series - another format India is great at - beginning at the Wanderers on Sunday.