The phrase most commonly associated with the Indian cricket team ''Tigers at home, lambs abroad’’ has again become more vociferous. Two straight losses in South Africa following a run of nine successive series victories either at home or against relatively weak opposition has again raised questions as to whether the players can perform only on familiar, sub continental conditions even as their shortcomings are exposed ruthlessly in South Africa and New Zealand, England and Australia.

Coming to think of it when did the Indian team do well in these four countries? As is well known India have not won a series in Australia (which they have visited at regular intervals since the first tour in 1947-48) and South Africa (where they first played in 1992-93). In England they were beaten black and blue in 2011 and 2014 while the series win in 2007 came about rather fortuitously. In New Zealand they have notched up one series victory in over 40 years. For that matter even if one considers sub continental conditions India have won only one series in Pakistan despite seven visits.

All this only underlines the fact that the Indians are poor travelers so why the hue and cry this time around after the two defeats in South Africa? Because the run of successive victories raised hopes that this was a very different Indian side, a team that would do very well even outside India. It has turned out to be a rather disastrous illusion.

For any team to succeed there should be unison in all aspects of the game. The batting, bowling and fielding should all come off and if there is a dip in the performance of any one department it puts a lot of pressure on the other departments. In the two Tests in South Africa even as the bowlers have performed admirably there has been a perceptible fall in the batting and fielding standards and so there was little chance of the Indians succeeding against a well oiled South African cricketing machine in which all departments ticked away smoothly.

A lot has been made about the team selection, why this player and that was selected or not picked. To be candid whatever the composition of the final playing eleven it would have made little difference to the result for simply put South Africa have been the better team. Yes, there have been instances when they have been pushed into a corner but then they have managed to wriggle out and then bat and bowl themselves into a commanding position. Quite often the teams have been on level terms at some stage of the two matches. Every time however the South Africans have seized the initiative and India has never regained it. The home team scored every time when it came to the big moments.

One can even accept the Indian defeat in the first Test even if a defeat in three playing days should not really be condoned. The conditions at Cape Town were typically South African and the Indian batsmen lacked the technique to combat the moving and lifting ball. But the Indian batsmen’s failure on a brownish, slow surface at Centurion is difficult to accept. Except for Virat Kohli whose 153 was superlative even by his own high standards none of the other batsmen lived up to their reputation.

In addition the sloppy fielding and faulty catching has allowed South Africa to escape on numerous occasions whereas the home team has excelled in the field symbolized by Morne Morkel’s catch to dismiss Parthiv Patel in the second innings at Centurion. The tall fast bowler is hardly athletic in the field given his ungainly frame but somehow he made sizeable ground to get to the ball which seemed to be eluding him till the last moment.

No praise can be too high for the Indian bowlers. They have made the most of the conditions and the pace quartet have given the rather formidable South African a number of anxious moments. Even Ravi Ashwin whose away record is in stark contrast to his awesome record at home has had his moments. That the highest South African total is 335 and the fact that they have dismissed them for 130 in the second innings at Cape Town is testimony to their skill and hostility. The ultimate tribute has come from AB de Villiers who has admitted that the ''lively’’ Indian attack took him by ''surprise’’.

Unfortunately the same handsome praise cannot be paid to the batsmen. That there has been just one century and a 90 from a batting line-up that is considered as one of the best in the contemporary game tells a sorry tale. The repeated failure of the top and middle order has more than anything else led to the current situation where South Africa have already won the series with one match to be played. .

In any case the Indians have been brought down to earth with a sickening thud. Suddenly the success in nine successive Test series doesn’t seem an enormous achievement. They now have to come to terms with reality as they move to Johannesburg for the final Test in a few days time. Can they at least gain a consolation victory? At the moment it does seem unlikely. One supposes that if they can avoid defeat it would constitute a moral victory. South Africa who are second in the ICC rankings are playing like champions while India who are the No 1 ranked side are performing several notches below their status – and one reckons, their potential.