With back to back defeats in T20 and ODI series, India struck back effectively to win the Freedom Test series by a scoreline of 3-0. The Indian batting department which was their expected strength faltered at every game except the last Test. Bowlers in this series outweighed the batsmen’s contributions by a wide margin with special mention going to the spin-trio of Ashwin, Jadeja, and Mishra who were the backbone of the Indian bowling and also a major reason in breaking the unbeaten 9-year record of South Africa not losing a single away Test series.
The first and third at Mohali and Nagpur respectively saw the game ending within just 3 days. All credit goes to the Indian bowlers who kept taking wickets, right from the start of the innings. Conditions like spinning turfs on both venues meant spinners took maximum advantage, resulting in the slow bowlers taking out most of the protea batting line-up. With every succeeding game, South African’s losing margin kept on extending as they lost the first Test by 108 runs, the third one by 124 and the last one by a whopping 337 runs ( the second match was washed out).
The series affected the players a lot. For some, it was a great opportunity given to them so that they could make a comeback to the International circuit while, for others, it meant standing up to the nation’s expectations. Here we rate all the players who contributed towards this historic series win –
1. Murali Vijay – 3/5
The right-handed opener looked very consistent throughout the series except the last Test. Although Vijay doesn’t have any century to his name, he consistently stroked his way steadily in many innings with scores in the 40s, thereby providing a steady and decent start to his team. His series scores summed up to 210 runs in 7 innings which meant he was the third highest scorer in the Freedom series. With an average of 35.00 and a half-century in his purse, he played his average game that could have been better, knowing his potential of playing a big innings at home.
2. Shikhar Dhawan – 1.5/5
Even though India won the series, it can be termed as a disastrous one forShikhar Dhawan. The aggressive left-hander felt wobbly and fragile whenever he started the innings. Cheeky shots, nicks, and edges were regular components of his batting innings. Except the Bangalore Test, in which he looked dangerous, which eventually got washed out, Dhawan failed to capitalize on his starts. A score of 45 n.o being his highest throughout the series, the opener really needs to go back to the drawing board and make some changes to his batting basics. With poor statistics of just 150 runs in 7 innings at an average of 25.00, he really needs to improve his batting so that he can perform his best at least in home conditions.
3. Cheteshwar Pujara – 2.5/5
Test specialist Cheteshwar Pujara showcased everything except being a Test specialist batsmen whenever he took to guard against the South Africans. His once solid-and-supreme defense came as a weak one, as Imran Tahir’s leg-spin seldom broke through his defense to uproot his wicket the maximum times in the series. Considered an ideal replacement for Rahul Dravid, Pujara has to improve his defense and hence stay long at the crease to simultaneously improve his style of attack which earned him great fame in the Test circuit. Not having many runs as one had expected him to score, 202 runs in 6 innings with an average of 33.67 and just one 50 throughout, his statistics tells the satisfactory tale of his batting. Improvements are needed here immediately as Pujara’s skills and talent are quite a valuable asset to the Indian team.
4. Virat Kohli – 3.5/5
The Test skipper would be deemed as the happiest one among the squad. Winning the last match and hence the series in his home ground while leading his team couldn’t have been a more proud moment. The positives first – Kohli was amazing as a captain. Aggressive in nature, he never let the batsmen settle by keeping him surrounded by fielders. Spinners were asked to bowl the very first overs of the day with the new ball under his leadership. The last Test saw him rise to his potential as the batsman. Scoring 44 and 88 in the last Test, he didn’t disappoint his home crowd. The negative part was just his batting – throughout the series. Playing unreachable balls, nicking balls to the keeper and slips meant he stayed for shorter durations on the crease. The run machine which he was once considered was out of order until the last Test. With 200 runs in 6 innings and great aggressive captaincy, he needs to perform his primary duty as a batsman to keep his team out of trouble.
5. Ajinkya Rahane – 4/5
Statistics shows that Rahane was the most successful batsmen throughout the series, but numbers just tell half the story. Those numbers reached the top of the table only after his majestic display of batting in the Kotla Test where he scored a century in both innings. Before that record breaking feat, his each innings score didn’t even cross 20 runs. Fielding and catching were the one thing that remained top-class throughout the series. Possessing the record of 10 catches, he dismissed more batsmen by catching than both the wicket-keepers. Although Rahane has performed internationally with centuries in almost every Test country, his recent form after Kotla Test should continue for India to be in the top-ranked teams in the world.
6. Wriddhiman Saha – 3/5
The replacement for iconic MS Dhoni has been trying to live up to the expectations. The performance behind the wickets has been fairly very well. Saha has been consistent in pulling off stunning catches and quick stumpings. Although he also missed quite a few chances but those could be neglected as they were relatively tough ones. His performance on the other side of the pitch has been an average one. He showed resilience in the Nagpur Test and some excellent stroke play in the Kotla one. With time, Saha is likely to evolve as an effective wicketkeeper-batsman for a Test match.
7. Ravichandran Ashwin – 4.5/5
The off-spinner had the most successful series of the lot. Taking the most wickets in every match and even becoming the highest wicket-taking bowler in 2015, it was Ashwin who made the difference. Pitches at all venue provided sufficient turn and bounce to his off-spin. 31 wickets in 4 matches was a cracker of a performance throughout. 5-wicket hauls in the series meant South African batsmen were not even close to comprehending Ashwin as they fell prey to his attacking bowling. A half-century in the last Test saw him contributing to the batting as well. An all-round performance by him led to Ashwin being awarded the Man of the Series title.
8. Ravindra Jadeja – 4/5
Making a comeback to the International scene, Jadeja made the most of this opportunity. Taking 23 wickets in 4 matches with two 5-wicket hauls, he was the second highest wicket-taker in the series. Proteas batsmen were deceived by his sharp turning balls. He even kept bowling straight balls which confused the batsmen and also awarded him with their wickets at several points of the match. 109 runs from a lower-order batsman meant he even gave a useful boost to the team totals in the last stages of the innings.
9. Amit Mishra – 3.5/5
The leg-spinner was the surprise element for Team India. Although everyone knew he could turn the ball both ways and that too sharply, very few expected him to impact the game in a major way. Breaking the important partnerships at important stages, Mishra was the dark horse of the series. Getting to play just 2 matches due to the pitch conditions, he made the most of his opportunities by uprooting 7 South African wickets. The likes of Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis were bowled out by the little leg-spinner. If he continues to bowl in a similar fashion, he might become a regular to the Indian Test side.
10. Umesh Yadav – 3.5/5
The pitches in this series were not very pacer-friendly. They didn’t provide enough bounce and pace that fast bowlers like Yadav need to impact the game. But that didn’t stop him from playing his part. The last Test at Feroz Shah Kotla saw Yadav wreaking havoc. Stumps were sent flying and one even broke in half while balls were finding the edge and then comfortably went to the keeper. These were the scenes when Yadav was given to bowl especially in the 4th Test. Being the fastest bowler in the current Indian team, he showed his worth by striking unexpectedly on spinning turfs.
11. Ishant Sharma – 2.5/5
Ishant Sharma being a pace bowler didn’t have much to do in the Freedom series. His experience was needed the most in the game. Though the captain didn’t present him the ball as much, he didn’t let the batsmen score of his balls. He kept the pressure which spinners had bestowed from one end. The only noticeable weakness was that he lacked the line and length to take wickets.
12. Rohit Sharma – 0.5/5
He may be the ODI and T20 sensation for Team India, but playing Test matches is clearly not his forte. Accumulating just 26 runs from 2 Tests, one can say that the Nagpur pitch has a serious contender for the ICC termed “poor” word definition. A completely disastrous batting display with unnecessary shots being played at unneeded times, he lacked the patience needed to play a Test match. His ODI and T20 approach has affected his Test batting performance and made it look worse.
13. Varun Aaron – 1.5/5
The speedster could grab just 2 wickets in 2 outings. The right-hand fast bowler lacked accuracy and precision which allowed batsmen to easily either defend his bowls or play aggressive shots right away. His teammate Umesh Yadav has outshone him in this series, but Aaron needs to perform consistently in order to remain in the eyes of the selectors and most importantly – have a place for himself in the national team.
14. Stuart Binny – 1.5/5
The all-rounder didn’t have any major contribution towards the Indians winning the series 3-0. Procuring just 1 wicket in one Test, he couldn’t produce any significant performance in batting department as well to secure himself a place in the playing XI.