A tour that started with the expectation of a first Test series win in South Africa has turned into a disaster for India. They lost the Test series 1-2 after taking a series lead in Centurion and have now also lost the ODI series with one game to go.
The third ODI on Sunday in a bright and sunny Newlands in Cape Town is unimportant from a series perspective, but India – in churn with the change in leadership – cannot treat it as such. They were outplayed in both ODIs in Paarl and must use every game to close the gaping holes for the 2023 World Cup in India.
Four years ago, when India lost the Test series by a similar margin, they responded emphatically by winning a 6-match ODI series 5-1. Apart from the odd individual performances, there hasn’t been such a spark on this tour.
In the second ODI on Friday, India batted first on a used field that slowed down as the game progressed. India had batted second in the first ODI when a slow surface paralyzed their chase of 297. But when it was South Africa’s turn to chase a 288 target, they showed how to do it.
Quinton de Kock SA got off to a rocky start with a 66-ball 78 and an opening score of 132 in 22 overs with Janneman Malan (91) and the rest of the batters kept up the pace. Even when they lost two wickets in six balls in the middle phase, the incoming batters were never pressured by the demand rate.
Compare this to India’s approach with the bat. It remains a tad archaic at a time when teams like England – the 50-over world champions – are pushing the boundaries and overhauling par totals. As Rishabh Pant showed on Friday with 85 from 71 balls, India has the players in that attacking form, but there needs to be a more concerted effort as a batting group. Otherwise, their recent slide – nine defeats in the last 14 completed games – can continue.
The difference in approach was illustrated by the way India played Aiden Markram’s part-time spin against South Africa’s treatment of ace off-spinner R Ashwin. The Indian batters had the utmost respect for Markram’s calm free kicks, which saw him come away with 1/34 from 8 overs with an economy of 4.25. Stand-in skipper KL Rahul was content with a one-and-two punch on his 79-ball 55, despite the ball changing in his strike arc, perhaps influenced by his dismissal in the opening ODI.
De Kock was also ejected by Ashwin in the first game, but that didn’t affect the opener’s prospects. He went after the experienced spinner and never allowed him to dictate terms. He was given a reprieve when Pant missed a legal punch in the eighth over, but the southpaw sent the next ball for six over a deep square leg.
Bowling also a concern
Bowling in India has also failed them. They took just seven wickets in nearly 100 overs in the two games, one of which was a runout.
In South Africa’s 2018 ODI series win, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal played a pivotal role, surfacing the top two wicket takers with 17 and 16 scalps respectively. The two wrist spinners continued to pin the Proteas with wickets through the middle overs. Since then, Yadav has fallen out of favor – he’s making a comeback after knee surgery in September – and Chahal’s wicket-taking has taken a dent.
Chahal’s numbers of 10-0-53-0 and 10-0-47-1 in the two games are respectable, but the team wouldn’t mind if the leggie took a few more runs in exchange for breakthroughs.
“The South African spinners are more consistent in their lines and lengths. We didn’t take enough wickets in the middle-overs. They did. That was the biggest difference in both games. We could have bowled a little better in the middle-overs and hit a lot better in the middle-overs too,” Pant told reporters after the second ODI.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s problems with the new ball have made matters worse. With the ball not swinging, his rolling average pace posed no danger, resulting in 18 wicketless overs for 131 runs.
Kumar could make way for Deepak Chahar on Sunday. Batters Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan and Seamer Prasidh Krishna will also like to take a look before India returns home. While ushering in the changes may not solve India’s white ball problems, a huge opportunity would be lost if some of these players don’t get a chance to see how they do in South African conditions.