Different format, same result: India loses second ODI at trot against SA to concede series

India needs to change their white ball template. That is the biggest lesson from the defeat of their ODI series against South Africa.

In addition to Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur and Ravichandran Ashwin’s 48-run partnership at death, the tourists also played terrifying cricket in the second ODI, losing the match by seven wickets and the run of three matches.

What India lacked was the boldness of Quinton de Kock beforehand, which turned out to be the big difference. The southpaw grabbed the game by the lapel and initially targeted Bhuvneshwar Kumar on a used Boland Park pitch, where the elder grabbed the ball and lost its speed off the deck. De Kock’s 78 runs off 66 balls, and a 132-run opening partnership with Janneman Malan, slammed the door for India. Malan made 91 in 108 deliveries, while the Proteas comfortably chased 288 for the win, with 11 balls left.

De Kock had his fair share of luck, as Pant missed an easy stumping to Ashwin’s bowling to give the batsman a reprieve at 32. The next ball went for a six. De Kock’s knock brought South Africa to the fore.

He was ready to live by the sword. That’s the job of the batting enforcers in shorter formats, despite the occasional fallouts. Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow do it for England. David Warner and Aaron Finch do it for Australia. Martin Guptill and Fakhar Zaman play that role for New Zealand and Pakistan respectively.

De Kock had his share of luck, when Pant missed an easy stump. (AP)

Shikhar Dhawan is the designated enforcer in the Indian team at the top. Rarely does he score a run-a-ball in the first Powerplay. On Friday, he got out for 29 of 38 deliveries. India’s start was slow compared to their opponents; 57 for no loss after 10 overs against South Africa’s 66 for no loss after 10. On a slow pitch, the hard new ball offered the best chance of scoring quickly.

India missed Rohit Sharma heavily on this tour, both in Tests and the ODIs. Rohit also needs some time before opening up in white ball cricket. But his reach gives him that leeway. Rahul, usually a free-flowing batsman on the order of 50-over cricket, became reticent as he promoted himself to open the innings. He played the part of anchor and scored 55 well, but he never seemed to dominate the bowling. His 115-run third-wicket partnership with Pant was instrumental to India’s recovery after they lost Dhawan and Kohli in quick succession, the last to a five-ball duck. But curtailing his natural stroke play didn’t bode well for his team in either ODI.

This Indian batting setup has also developed a habit of falling prey to soft firing or splattering after putting themselves under pressure. It cost India the T20 World Cup. Here too it hindered them in the ODIs. Rahul scored with a pass rate of under 70. Dhawan’s was a little better, 76-plus. Shreyas Iyer and Venkatesh Iyer’s strike rates were 78 and 66 respectively. It was 1990s cricket. Only Pant, Shardul and Ashwin scored their runs with over 100 strike rates.

Rishabh Pant played some daring shots in his turns. (AP)

Pant was the only specialist batsman who thrived on his audacity. After lying in Keshav Maharaj, he hit Tabraiz Shamsi for a four, followed by another frontier next ball, via a conventional sweep. When the Chinese bowler removed the slipfielder and placed an extra man on the leg side, Pant used the depth of the fold and let Shamsi cut for a four.

He reached his half-century in 43 balls, hit his ODI career best of 85, but went long to the Shamsi bowling alley. It met India’s hopes of posting a total of over 300 points in modern ODIs. On the other hand, Pant was the only batsman who forced the South African bowlers to think differently.

His contribution to the 115-run partnership was 83 from 65 balls, while Rahul made 31 from 46. South Africa had a golden opportunity to nip the association in the bud when both batsmen stranded on one side, but Maharaj failed to collect Temba Bavuma’s pitch. India was then 70/2. Later Rahul got a reprieve at 46, Aiden Markram dropped a fairly regular catch on the point of Andile Phehluwayo’s bowling.

India’s non-use of Suryakumar Yadav in the two ODIs was the result of conservative thinking. The team management did the right thing by staying with Venkatesh Iyer, but a player like Yadav is an asset in the shorter formats. It is up to the think tank to decide which of the specialized batsmen should give way to it. Yadav’s 360-degree batting provides the x-factor and keeps the bowlers on their toes. He is innovative enough not to get out of trouble.

When India bowled, the biggest question was why the selectors haven’t left Bhuvneshwar Kumar yet. The medium pacer opened the bowl with Jasprit Bumrah and De Kock happily collected two fours and a six in his first over. Kumar looked pedestrian. In eight overs, he allowed 67 runs without ever looking effective. Meanwhile, De Kock was not afraid to carry out the attack on Bumrah.

As for tactics, removing Shardul right after he broke the opening partnership was questionable, as was the fact that Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal only threw four overs in a row, two at the top and two after the game was lost. At the same time, the Indian spinners were once again caught off guard by their South African counterparts.

The Saffers had some jitters after losing two quick wickets, a Bumrah delivery that bounced off Malan’s gloves and hit the stumps, and Bavuma offering Chahal a return catch. But with the partnership opening quickly, the hosts were never pressured by the asking price. They meandered to the highest ODI run chase at this venue, confirming that short bowling in India was in need of a major shake-up.

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