While the team led by Sachin Tendulkar won only one of the dozen matches that it played Down Under, there was scarcely anything else to talk about by way of individual performances. More reputations were marred than made.
The country's leading batsmen, Tendulkar himself, his deputy Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, may have had brief moments of glory, but their contributions were far too few for the sake of the team in both versions of the game.
If the side's batting performance overall was weak, the bowling attack was weaker still. A dismal picture was complete with the fielding and fitness of players being far below international standards.
Where do we go from here? The South Africans are no less formidable than our recent tormentors Australia and Pakistan. Even if we make allowances for the fact that Indians are veritable lions at home, with the nature of the wickets and other conditions markedly in our favour, the advantage appears only superficial and not real.
The game's administrators, the selectors included, must surely be in a quandary over measures to adopt to put the cricketing abilities of those selected on an even keel. The big question before them is whether to stick to a policy of laissez-faire or to go in for a large-scale shake-up. The dilemma facing them would be whether to plump for fresh, new blood, or to fall back on the tried-and-trusted and those needlessly discarded.
Sachin Tendulkar's captaincy, as also the functioning of Kapil Dev as the team coach, will come under the strictest scrutiny before other any attempt is made to tackle the other major problems of selection.
It is no use gnashing our teeth in anger or contempt, nor even shedding tears of pity over what much indubitably rank as Indian's worst ever performance in seven visits Down Under. Of course, there were many aspects to our failure. But let us, for once, turn philosophical and make disaster serviceable according to the damage it has caused.
A confrontation between the administration and the present team's management is quite on the cards. It would be best for the sake of Indian cricket if a realistic, rather than an egoistic, approach is adopted to try and solve all the problems that the recent tour may have thrown up.
To start with, there are two important issues which would form the subject matter of a great debate. One is the continuance of Sachin Tendulkar as captain and the other is the recall of former captain Mohammed Azharuddin for national service.
Expert opinion appears to be divided on the question of Sachin Tendulkar's continuance as captain. It may be recalled that a couple of years ago, Tendulkar had lost his captaincy after a disastrous tour of the West Indies. The selectors' argument then, as they reinstated Azharuddin as captain, was that the world's leading batsman might have had his performance as a batsman greatly affected by the cares of captaincy.
Statistics, however, did not support this theory then, as Tendulkar had recorded four Test centuries from the time he was deposed.
Tendulkar and Ganguly, and to a lesser extent Rahul Dravid, may have come up with fair batting performances on the recent tour. But by their own high standards, much more was expected from the skipper and his deputy and Dravid. The mainstay of the Indian team achieved too little too late.
There might be another important but unseen factor that might sway the opinion of the selectors in continuing to pin their faith in Tendulkar as captain. That pertains to the inclusion of Mohammed Azharuddin, as well as Nayan Mongia into the team for the Test matches against South Africa.
It is no longer a secret that both Tendulkar and coach Kapil Dev had resisted, in their own tactful way, any attempts to rienstate Azharuddin into the Indian team for the one-day series. The humiliation suffered by Nayan Mongia and his unceremonious return after being sent as a reinforcement, is also too well-known. Both these acts quite clearly suggest that the team management and the BCCI Secretary and the selectors have not had a relationship that could be called harmonious.
How this unfortunate relationship will project itself when the selectors sit down to finalise the squad for the two Tests to be played against South Africa is to be seen.
Much before that happens, the national selectors will meet in Mumbai to pick the three teams to play in the Challenger series in Ahmedabad from February 10 to 13. The Challenger series, introduced a few years ago, provides enough grist to the mill to enable the selectors to arrive at a final selection after viewing all possible available talent in a tournament that is contested by the national side and the India 'A' and India 'B' sides consisting of youngsters.
The selectors may well nominate the entire Under-19 World Cup winning team, led by Mohammed Kaif, as the third team for the tournament, with those in the main national side and those who have either been discarded or are on the fringes of selection making up the first two teams.
The selection of these three teams (to take place in Mumbai on Feb 3) will be a pointer to what the national selectors may be about in their approach to first selecting the Board President's XI for the South African tour opener at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium (Feb 19 to 21) and then the team for the first Test, also in Mumbai (at the Wankhede Stadium - Feb 24 to 28).
If the first major task of the appointment of the captain is amicably settled, then the choice of players making up the squad for the first Test will be taken up after the Challenger series at Ahmedabad on Feb 13.
The pressure to reinstate Azharuddin into the team and the counter-pressure from Tendulkar-Kapil Dev & Co will provide a difficult balancing act for the selectors. The performances of several youngsters, who had helped India win the youth World Cup in Sri Lanka, will be an important factor that will influence the selectors' minds.
At least three players from the Under-19 team, Mohammed Kaif, Reetinder Singh Sodhi and Yuvraj Singh, come into immediate reckoning as much for their promising cricketing talent as for their tremendous commitment. Two or three recent discards, in Nayan Mongia, Harbhajan Singh and T Kumaran, will also have to be considered.
There is a body of opinion that feels that the present team badly needs transfusion of fresh blood, while there are others who might yet like to take a line of least resistance and advise banking on experience.
It will be sad indeed if extraneous factors, such as the personal likes and dislikes of the present skipper and the coach on one side and the rather adamant attitude of the selectors, well-supported by the BCCI Secretary, on the other overrides the selection on pure talent and merit.
It is understood that there might be a veritable showdown over the inclusion of Mohammed Azharuddin. A person close to the Indian team belives that Kapil Dev has kept this resignation ready and would not hesitate for a moment in submitting it to the BCCI President if the former captain is reinducted into the side against the rightful claims of younger players.
Even the inclusion of Nayan Mongia might be countered by Sachin Tendulkar who, even while in Australia, indicated to the Mumbai selectors to include wicket-keeper Sameer Dighe in the team for the super-league Ranji Trophy clash against Karnataka at Bangalore. With only one opener in the side, Tendulkar wants Dighe to open the innings to show his worth to the selectors.