The second T20I at Barabati Stadium in Cuttack saw the crowd go rogue in disgust at the India’s meek surrender to South Africa. Water bottles were turned into missiles and flung from the stands. The game was delayed for over 40 minutes as the players sat on the ground and chilled.
The problem for India, as it turned out, was that none of the batsmen even spent that much time at the crease. Only two India batsmen - Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina - faced more than 20 balls. It was an abject batting performance on a pitch that did offer some bite to the bowlers but was no minefield.
Faf du Plessis said he had no idea how the pitch would behave after winning the toss but chose to bowl first because of the dew factor. When Imran Tahir came on to bowl the second over of the innings, there was a ball that landed on good length but bounced chest high to Rohit Sharma and knocked the bat out of his hands.
The very next ball kept low and skidded on to the stumps from the same length. That should have set the alarm bells ringing for the India top-order and convinced them that preserving wickets was crucial.
But what followed were a series of soft dismissals. Shikhar Dhawan missed an over-pitched straight ball to get hit on the pads .Virat Kohli was run out off the first ball he faced, after going for a non-existent second run. Ambati Rayudu missed a full toss on the leg stump. Dhoni played a nothing shot to edge behind the stumps. Suresh Raina and Axar Patel found the fielders with unerring precision off innocuous deliveries.
Only one top-order dismissal truly belonged to a South African player as David Miller channeled his inner Jonty Rhodes from point to score a direct hit and send Rohit Sharma trudging back to the pavilion.
This was a case of collective failure with the entire batting order showing a lack of application. This was a pitch where 140 would have given the bowlers a chance but with the top-order collapsing, none of the batsmen in the middle took that responsibility. Sure, South Africa bowled well and did not give an inch on the field, but it is not difficult to look back at the fall of wickets and say they were all avoidable.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh bowled excellent spells at the top to cause some jitters in the South Africa camp. Ashwin, in fact, was unplayable for most of his four overs as he ended with three wickets for 24 runs. He dismissed Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers before the 10-over mark, but it was telling that the chase never looked in any trouble despite that.
"It's important to address what went wrong. We lost wickets in pairs. You get performances like these, what's important is how you bounce back," Dhoni said after South Africa ran out comfortable winners. "The calling needs to improve. At times you want to take a chance against the fielder. Modern cricket is all about quick running. But you have to also keep the dew factor in mind, because the ball will go to the fielder quicker and throws will skid off the surface faster."
"You can convert 1.8 runs or 1.9 runs into 2, but not 1.75 or 1.7," Dhoni said with his inimitable wry smile.
The bowlers let the team down in Dharamsala and the batsmen failed in Cuttack. The series is now lost and India will play for pride in Kolkata on Thursday.
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