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Middle-order, leadership, bowlers cooling off: Key factors in India’s ODI series loss to SA

India lost 2nd ODI in Paarl by 7 wkts Friday, despite half-centuries from Rishabh Pant & captain KL Rahul. There weren't enough runs on the board, and bowlers looked toothless.

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New Delhi: India’s middle-order woes don’t seem to be going away on their tour to South Africa, regardless of format. And what’s more, the red-hot bowling attack also seems to have cooled off.

As a result, India Friday lost their fourth consecutive match on this tour after the Johannesburg and Cape Town Tests and the first ODI at Paarl’s Boland Park. The defeat in the second ODI, at the same venue as the first, means that India have lost the three-match series already, with one to play.

The seven-wicket defeat had few bright spots for India after K.L. Rahul won the toss and elected to bat. The skipper scored a chancy half-century, and Rishabh Pant top-scored with 85. But India’s target of 288 was no problem for the hosts, as they cantered to the target in 48.1 overs, with openers Janneman Malan (91) and and man-of-the-match Quinton de Kock (78) doing a bulk of the scoring.

For the Indian bowling, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Shardul Thakur managed just a wicket apiece, highlighting the need for changes in planning, and possibly personnel too.

Gaps in white-ball cricket

The team selection issues and the leadership crisis seem to have flowed into the ODI series from the Tests. With Virat Kohli being dumped as ODI skipper before his resignation from Tests, and the designated captain in the white-ball formats Rohit Sharma missing out due to injury, and a new head coach in Rahul Dravid, there seems to be a state of flux in terms of decision-making.

The second ODI made it clear that the team is overdependent on pacer Bumrah to bail it out of tight spots it gets itself into. Bumrah conceded just 37 runs in his 10 overs, but what of the other 40? The team management doesn’t seem to have concrete answers as of now, and the lack of variety in the line-up — there isn’t a left-arm bowler in the squad — is also proving to be a factor.

Form is another issue. Senior swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar has got thrashed in both ODIs so far, while off-spinner R. Ashwin has failed to make an impact with the ball in the Tests as well as ODIs on the hard, bouncy South African pitches, with just four wickets in eight innings. The only meaningful contributions from him have been with the bat, and those have been few and far between.

But nothing has hurt India as much as the middle-order’s failures. Virat Kohli’s dismissal for a duck, through a tame catch to cover, showed that the former skipper is struggling for form despite some decent showings in the Tests, and the two Iyers in the line-up, Shreyas and newcomer Venkatesh, contributed just 33 runs in total. Once Pant got out for his 71-ball 85, India could never recover the momentum, and what looked like a 300-plus score fizzled out despite some late runs from Thakur and Ashwin.

The South African team, which has been in rebuilding mode in recent years, has managed to lay bare these fundamental issues both in terms of strategy and execution of skills.

K.L. Rahul’s post-match press conference was indicative of all not being well in the dressing room — he described the defeat as “good learning”, and when asked about expected changes for the third ODI, he said it was “too soon to say anything”.

Brief scores: India 287/6 (50) (Rishabh Pant 85, KL Rahul 55, Tabraiz Shamsi 2/57), South Africa 288/3 (48.1) (Janneman Malan 91, Quinton de Kock 78, Jasprit Bumrah 1/37)

(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)

Also read: India suffer 31-run loss after no answer to Bavuma and vd Dussen’s contrasting centuries

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