Three weeks have passed in 2022, and India are yet to win a match. They have slipped from top to third place in the ICC Test Rankings. In ODIs, they are at fourth place, just ahead of South Africa. And not too long ago, they had crashed out of the first round in the 2021 T20 World Cup.
Given the benchmarks India have set in recent years, the ongoing South African tour has been a disappointment, to say the least. In 2022, they have lost consecutive Tests, in Johannesburg and Cape Town, followed by the first ODI at Paarl.
Another loss will only ensure that they return empty-handed from South Africa, having suffered defeats in both the Test and ODI series. The last time India lost every series on a tour was in Australia, in 2014/15. They had lost the Test matches and failed to qualify for the tournament final of the ODI tri-series that also included England. Incidentally, that tour was the first for Virat Kohli as full-time captain.
South Africa, on the other hand, have not won an ODI series in almost two years, since the visiting Australian side in February 2020. Since then, they have lost at home to Pakistan, drew in Ireland, lost in Sri Lanka, while the ODI against the Netherlands was called off.
The two sides will once again tussle at Paarl that’s expected to remain in the lap of the heatwave, with the mercury soaring around 40 degrees. The surface is expected to remain slow and offer turn.
The hosts have no reason to tamper with their winning combination. Aiden Markram’s batting form is a headache, but he did make up for his lack of runs with fielding and bowling. As the sixth bowling option, he opened bowling and picked up Indian captain K.L. Rahul.
Spin was always going to be the key at Boland Park, and the South Africans triumphed over their Indian counterparts. Markram, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj bowled 26 overs for 124 runs, claiming four wickets.
South Africa do have glitches to be fixed. Quinton de Kock has now fallen seven times to R. Ashwin in limited-overs cricket. South Africa were also about 25 runs short in the first ODI after the position they got themselves into after two centuries.
While Rassie van der Dussen’s 96-ball 129 not out powered them to 296, captain Temba Bavuma’s 110 off 143 balls set the foundation. However, Bavuma needed to step up the scoring rate in the slog overs, making up for the dot balls. By the time he departed in 49th over, David Miller was left with too little. In an ideal scenario, you would want a Miller to play as many balls as possible at the end.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Janneman Malan, Temba Bavuma (c), Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Marco Jansen, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi.
India did have their moments in the first ODI. They started well with ball and were decent at the end. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli then made the chase look like a formality before the South African spinners struck. Earlier, Rahul had allowed their sixth bowling option, Markram, to settle in.
Middle-order batting and middle-over bowling have been India’s woes for some time. That brings us to the question of Rahul’s decision to open batting after topping the run charts for India as a middle-order batter in the past two years.
Since 2020, Rahul has amassed 554 runs at 69.3 in ODIs in the middle order, striking at 110.
Even without Rohit Sharma, there is no dearth of talented openers in the Indian setup. From Ruturaj Gaikwad to Venkatesh Iyer to Prithvi Shaw to Shubman Gill to Mayank Agarwal to Devdutt Padikkal to Ishan Kishan, the cupboard seems rather full when it comes to opening options.
With Dhawan and Kohli in the top three, India can only benefit from Rahul’s presence in the middle order. However, that is unlikely to happen, as India may use the ODIs as a platform to prepare for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
The other talking was Venkatesh’s presence in the side if he was not going to bowl. With Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan waiting in the wings as specialist batters, do India continue with both the Iyers in the middle-order? Or do the Mumbai Indians dashers get a look? These are some of the questions to ponder.
India have bowling headaches to address as well. Will they rest Jasprit Bumrah to manage his workload? Should they find a way to accommodate Deepak Chahar? Or do they go for the extra pace in these conditions and pick Prasidh Krishna? Question marks also remain on Mohammed Siraj’s fitness.
In 2017/18, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav shared 33 wickets to bowl India to an incredible series win in South Africa. The spinners looked far from convincing in the first game as Chahal went wicket-less for his 53 in 10 overs, and Ashwin managed the solitary wicket of de Kock, going for the same number of runs from his quota.
India: K.L. Rahul (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shreyas Iyer, Venkatesh Iyer, R. Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal.
- Five of de Kock’s 16 ODI tons have come against India. He averages 58 against them, striking at over 90. It is a matter of time before he comes good. Having retired from Tests, he is a handy choice as captain.
- Shamsi has been terrific in white-ball cricket. In the first match, he picked the key wicket of Kohli. A wrist-spinner is always bankable in the white-ball format.
- Pick both Kohli and Dhawan. These are two men who tend to encash on their form.
- It makes sense to pick the centurions from the previous game. Bavuma averages over 55 in ODIs, while van der Dussen's average is just under 74.
Quinton de Kock (c), Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul, Temba Bavuma, Virat Kohli, Rassie van der Dussen, Rishabh Pant, Venkatesh Iyer/Andile Phehlukwayo, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi, Jasprit Bumrah.