After the dramatic turnaround in the Tests that saw the struggling hosts bounce back from a one-sided defeat in Centurion to win the next two encounters and seal a memorable series win, South Africa were always going to be the favourites entering the one-day leg of India’s tour.
The Proteas did enter the one-dayers upbeat and in a confident state of mind after pulling off a heist in the Tests, and would have backed themselves to carry the momentum over from the Tests and excel in the 50-over games. Few, however, would have expected them to end up sweeping the series 3-0, winning two of those games with relative ease.
India were heavily backed to conquer the final frontier after arriving in Johannesburg in December, given they had pulled off similar conquests in Australia and England and had transformed into a world-beating side under Virat Kohli’s leadership in recent years.
Little did they know that the 113-run victory in Centurion that led to multiple predictions of them sweeping the Tests 3-0 would in the end turn out to be their only victory of an incredibly underwhelming tour. It was a tour that saw Virat Kohli announce his resignation as Test captain right after the series loss in the backdrop of strained relations with the BCCI.
While India will have to go back to the drawing board to plan for the road ahead in another World Cup year and resolve the leadership crisis, the South Africans seem to be a fairly well-gelled unit at the moment. The team has been churning out one impressive performance after another since the tour of the Caribbean last summer and had even done well in the T20 World Cup despite failing to reach the semi-finals, winning four out of five games.
Their performance against India will only serve to reassure their supporters that the Proteas are perhaps in their best shape in years, and perhaps the gradual decline in the aftermath of the disastrous 2019 World Cup has finally been arrested.
As we bring our coverage of India’s tour of South Africa to a close, we conclude by taking a look at five lessons learned from the one-day series:
Proteas have a solid top order
While the pace department had a slight edge over the batters when it came to taking the credit for the Test series victory, South Africa’s performance in the one-dayers saw the batting unit come to the fore and play a key role in each of the three victories. Especially the top order.
That the South African top order was in great shape throughout the series can be ascertained from the fact that all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo, who comes in at 7, only got to bat in the third game. More importantly, each member of the top three — openers Quinton de Kock, Janneman Malan and No 3 Temba Bavuma — got big scores in the series, the skipper scoring a century in the first game with Malan dishing out a composed 91 in the second.
The standout performance of the series though is reserved by de Kock, who took the attack to the Indian bowlers in the second and third one-dayers to bag consecutive Player of the Match awards, as well as the Player of the Series and finishing top of the run charts (229, average 76.33).
The Test retirement will have come as a shock to many, but the break after the Centurion Test, along with a new role in his personal life (became a father), appears to have done his confidence and form a world of good, which can only translate to good news for the Proteas as they plan for the 20 and 50-over World Cups.
Bhuvneshwar running out of time amid competition
Life has been tough for Bhuvneshwar Kumar in recent years with concerns both over his fitness as well as over his ability to deliver on the field. The one-day series against South Africa was an opportunity for the pacer, once an indispensable part of the limited-overs teams as well as a frontline pace option in Tests, to re-establish himself in the side as a first-choice seamer who is also handy with the bat down the order.
Bhuvneshwar, though, never quite found his rhythm in the two games that he was part of, failing to grab a single wicket after bowling 18 overs, going at over seven runs an over. The second game was worse as he had to be taken off the attack after just one over in the first powerplay, in which he leaked 16 runs.
He was rested for the third game, with Deepak Chahar included in his place and the latter made the opportunity count, accounting for Malan’s wicket inside the powerplay with a beautiful outswinger and finishing with 2/53 before producing a quickfire 54 that nearly won India the game from a hopeless position.
Safe to say Chahar might have just pipped Bhuvneshwar in the pecking order and might find himself struggling for a place in the eleven amid the crowded talented pace battery.
Dhawan’s still got it
While Bhuvneshwar couldn’t quite make the most of the opportunities in this series, Shikhar Dhawan — another senior under pressure to retain his place amid rising competition for slots — was impressive to say the least across the three games with two fluent half-centuries.
While he’ll be disappointed to not bring up his 18th one-day hundred despite looking well set in Paarl and in Cape Town, his knocks of 79 and 61 in the first and third matches respectively helped India get off to promising starts and build solid partnerships with skipper KL Rahul and ex-captain Kohli, though India would eventually find a way to undo all the hard work with batting collapses.
What particularly stood out in his approach was his intent to unsettle the Proteas in the first powerplay by going for the attack. Dhawan mainly played the aggressor’s role while Rahul and Kohli calmly accumulated runs from the other end. He did not shy away from dancing down the track against seamers and spinners alike, and his neat strokeplay was the sign of a man who had rediscovered his old touch, the kind of form that made him a star batter in ICC events.
Dhawan finished the series as India's leading run-getter, and the third-highest overall, with 169 runs to his name at an average and strike rate of 56.33 and 86.66 respectively, a performance that should keep him in India’s plans for 2023 unless he suffers from a dramatic reversal of fortune.
KL Rahul’s scoring rate a cause of concern
India’s disappointing run in the series was especially tough for skipper Rahul, leading the side in place of the injured Rohit Sharma. Rahul would have hoped to make a case for his appointment as the future leader of the side and help the team bounce back from the Test series loss. Instead, he ended up becoming the face of one of India’s most disappointing performances in recent years, and his hopes of taking over the leadership in the post-Kohli era will have taken a massive hit.
Leadership skills aside, his batting didn’t escape the limelight either. Rahul did get a half-century in the second game in Paarl and formed a crucial third-wicket stand with Rishabh Pant, but his scores of 12 and 9 in the first and third matches will have put pressure on him as far his place in the top order is concerned, especially with Dhawan making the most of his opportunities with the bat. His scoring rate came under the scanner as he scored at a strike-rate of just 71.69. India's old-fashioned batting approach also hogged the limelight and Rahul's approach was more in sync with the overall approach. India would need to change the approach going forward. With the advent of T20s the batting template has changed and India will need to adapt to that.
With Rohit Sharma now an established opener across formats, chances are the Rahul could go back to the No 5 role where he's done well of late.
Aiden Markram turning out to be a good utility option
Markram had a forgettable outing in the Test series and had almost become a walking wicket for the Indians which put further pressure on Dean Elgar, Keegan Petersen and the rest of the middle order. Some called for him to be dropped, while others demanded he be pushed down the order.
Despite not crossing fifty in the one-dayers either, Markram made decent contributions an all-round option as well as a finisher, redeeming himself in the eyes of both the team management as well as the Proteas supporters.
White-ball skipper Temba Bavuma raised many an eyebrow after giving Markram the brand new ball at the start of India’s chase in the first game in Paarl, instead of one of their frontline seam options. Markram conceded just four runs from the first two overs and would help build pressure on the Indians by getting Rahul caught behind for just 12, and ended up conceding 30 runs from the six overs that he bowled.
He was even more economical in the next game at the same venue with figures of 1/34 from eight, this time getting Dhawan dismissed with his off-spin after being brought into the attack in the eighth over. Bavuma’s novel move worked out well in the end, and South Africa discovered another handy spin option in their ranks, which undoubtedly will give them the cushion of playing an extra seamer.
The cherry on the cake then would be his unbeaten 37 in the second game that helped chase down the 288-run target with ease in Rassie van der Dussen’s company, the pair arriving at the crease when the South Africans had lost two quick wickets and taking little time to settle at the crease and launch a counter-attack that would quickly snuff India’s hopes of making a late comeback out.
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At the post-match press conference on Wednesday, Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) assistant coach Vijay Dahiya cited the possible reason behind the charged-up celebration by the South African opener.
De Kock smashed an unbeaten 140 off just 70 deliveries to propel LSG to a commanding 210/0 after skipper KL Rahul opted to bat against KKR
It wasn’t a surprise as Umran, after his 21 wickets and propensity to make a mockery of the speed gun radar, was always in contention.