India arrived back home after a successful tour of South Africa where they did lose the Test series but came back in tremendous fashion to thump the Proteas in the ODIs and then the T20s. The prolific comeback from 0-2 down in the Tests earned plenty of applause for the Indian side. However, many claimed that the win came against an under-strength South Africa side. The hosts were without AB de Villiers for first three ODIs, and then missed the services of Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis thereafter.
“This is the biggest problem with our critics. When you win, the other team is not playing well. When you win in Sri Lanka, they are a weak team. When you play South Africa, they are not at their best. Remember, a team is only as good as you allow it to be. It’s as simple as that. No one says the Indian team were not at their best when we lose,” said Shastri to Mid-Day. “No Indian says that. When we lose, we lose. Ah, but when another team lose, they were not at their best. I can’t fathom and I don’t have an answer for that. By the way, we are not playing players, we are playing a country so I don’t care what is on offer. I am playing against South Africa. Who plays for South Africa is not my problem,” he said.
With eight match wins out of 12, from being 0-2 down in the Test series, Shastri alleged the comeback from akin to Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman in 1974 – the famed “Rumble in the Jungle” which later came to be called as the “greatest sporting event of the 20th century” – where Ali knocked down an unbeaten Foreman for the knockout. Despite the massive 5-1 win in the ODIs and 2-1 in the T20s, Shastri claimed there were some regrets but he wished to focus on the positives instead.
“I’ll be lying if I say there are no regrets. For me, everyday is a learning curve. When you lose, you learn too. What I liked was that the boys stood up and fought. They didn’t allow their shoulders to drop. In fact, they fought harder,” he said. “They reserved the biggest punch for the last. Two zip down and to throw that knockout punch on South Africa in Johannesburg (in third Test) was tremendous. They never recovered from that. It was like Muhammad Ali v George Foreman in 1974 and he fu****g knocked him out,” he added.
India lost the first Test by 72 runs and the second by 135 runs, however, despite the margin on paper, the two teams were largely separate by one session of play. Especially in the second Test, a collapse for India in a session meant doom and a defeat. Post the two defeats, the team management and the players assessed the situation and wanted to go on the attack instead of buckling and going for a draw. They were duely rewarded with a 63 run win and avoided a first-ever clean sweep in South Africa. “We always believed we could win. Very few people saw it, but we could have won both those games. Sometimes you feel in your country, people are happy when you lose.”
“We pulled out a calculation where we looked at sessions and we were just two sessions behind and those cost us two Test matches. I said, take the positives out of that and go into the next Test match to win – not to draw – to win! Not many teams would have batted first on that [Johannesburg] track. It was a nasty one,” Shastri stated.