As India fell to a 33-run defeat in the fifth ODI against the South African's, it saw a prize opportunity to create history by winning a maiden ODI series in the Rainbow Nation, fade into the Centurion sunset. Though India's performance through the series left much to be desired, there were some positives that emerged from amidst the despair of another squandered series.
Twice India stole victory from the jaws of defeat. In games 2 and 3 which India won, the team's nerves morphed to steel as they deprived South Africa of almost certain victory. First some sharp bowling and fielding helped Indian eke out a one-run win at Johannesburg and then Yusuf Pathan led a lower-order revival to ensure a 2-wicket win to give the visitors the lead. Those two matches brought out the best from India in the face of stiff adversity and extreme pressure.
The ground fielding and throwing at the stumps seemed too had markedly gone up a couple of notches. The sprightliness of Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli rubbed off onto most of the other unglorified fielders like Zaheer, who pulled off a brilliant tumbling catch at long-off to dismiss A B de Villiers and Bhajjji, who came to the party with another sharp catch to get rid of Graeme Smith, in the next match.
Meanwhile, India often comes in for flak for their messy bowling in the death overs. But this time, the bowlers pulled together well during those crunch moments and if not completely stifle, at least tempered the run-flow. In the matches India won, they conceded 26 for 4 and 48 for 6 respectively in the last 10 overs.
The evident positives that showed face as far as India's batting was concerned was Virat Kohli's tenacity and Yusuf Pathan's aggression. Virat used his good form to emerge the top-scorer for India in the series with 193 runs at 48.25 per match. His two fifties - 54 at Durban and 87 not ot at Port Elizabeth - stood out as bright spots in an otherwise dismal top-order batting performance.
Yusuf of course took his power-hitting prowess to greater heights with a fine repertoire of shots which included the huge heaves down the ground, the slaps over point and defiant sweep-scoops. In Cape Town, he reversed Indian fortunes virtually single-handedly with a gutsy 59 off 50 balls. But that innings was just a warm-up for his even more belligerent show at Centurion. His 105 off 70 balls in what turned out to be a losing cause, will anyway go down in the annals of cricket history as one of the all-time great one-day centuries. He showed that he can hold his own even on tracks that are not quite flat and accommodate pace and bounce.
It is time for India to reflect on the tour and take stock of the pluses and minuses that have surfaced, keeping in mind that they have a lot to rectify before the World Cup. As captain M S Dhoni pointed out, the South Africans provided them with a valuable batting lesson ahead of the mega-event. So the Indians would do well to take heed of it.