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India vs South Africa ODIs: Top three and spinners rule, middle order struggles; 5 key takeaways

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Finally! The world’s richest and most followed cricket team, India, finally won its maiden ODI series in South Africa by defeating hosts by 73 runs in the fourth ODI at Port Elizabeth. The match followed a similar script as men in blue again piled on the runs, riding on Rohit Sharma’s century (115) and then spin twins Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav bamboozled the hosts with their wizardry. And, with the win, India has made quite a remarkable turnaround from the Test series loss and now the T20 series is up for grabs. Knowing captain Virat Kohli, he would not take the foot off the accelerator and the visitors will play to win.

Let’s look at the five takeaways from India’s triumph over South Africa

1. India’s top three are regal and box-office:


From (L) to (R): Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma

Ever since the 2015 World Cup, the trio of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, and Virat Kohli have been piling on the runs relentlessly and across all conditions. The beauty about their game is that they take their time and once they are set, they convert their starts into match-winning hundreds. At Durban and Cape Town, it was skipper Virat Kohli (112 at Durban, 160* at Cape Town) who blazed centuries and then Shikhar Dhawan (109 at Johannesburg), Rohit Sharma (115 at Port Elizabeth) came to the party and showed their pristine class. The over-reliance on these batsmen have proved counterproductive for India (Champions Trophy final vs Pakistan, 2017) and if India has to win big trophies and tournaments then the team has to play as a collective unit, but as of now India’s top three are the envy of other teams and are pure regal and box-office.

2. India’s middle order issues and MS Dhoni’s lack of runs:

As discussed above, India’s top three are scoring bulk of the runs and in a way, the shoddy performances of the middle order has been neglected by them. The team is still struggling to come up with replacements of Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina. The likes of Kedar Jadhav, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer have flattered to deceive. Now, coming to the role of Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the team (69 runs in the series), the legendary world cup winning captain has been a pale shadow of himself and has been struggling for a while and in this series Dhoni has failed to get going and as a result India couldn’t put up big imposing scores. Dhoni will turn 37 in July and now it’s high time that Kohli and selectors sit down to discuss the roadmap for the future and emotions will have to be kept aside. Hardik Pandya also had a woeful series after impressing in Test matches. Time is running out for India to sort out the middle order issues and some concrete steps have to be taken ahead of India’s next series.

3. South Africa are struggling big time:

South Africa after winning the Test series have lost their mojo and have been completely outplayed in the series. After the injury to regular skipper Faf du Plessis, the team has been short of experience and the loss of form of Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (injured for first three games), Jean-Paul Duminy has not helped the matters either. The team has looked very lethargic and bereft of ideas and it was a naive move to appoint Aiden Markram (23 years of age) as a captain despite being so inexperienced and so young. The bowling apart from Kagiso Rabada has looked pedestrian and slow bowlers in Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi (one wicket by the two of them) have struggled where Indian slow bowlers have made merry. The team also had some questionable selections (read: quota) and coach Ottis Gibson has a lot of thinking to do before thinking about winning any silverware.

4. Coming of age for Chahal and Kuldeep:

Not often you will have two spin bowlers winning you matches in overseas conditions, but in Yuzvendra Chahal (14 wickets at an average of 16) and Kuldeep Yadav (16 wickets at an average of 11.56) have broken all preconceived notions and after five matches have 30 (Yes, you have read it right!) wickets between them. Despite being so new to international cricket, both of them have not shown any nerves or anxiety and have followed the lead of their captain in trying to go for wickets and not worry about going for runs (Johannesburg ODI). The spin twins’ cause was also helped by inept and tardy batting by Proteas batsmen, who had no clue which way the ball was turning. Overall, the bowling has looked in good shape, but this series will be remembered for India’s domination of Proteas by spin and Chahal and Kuldeep have passed this test with flying colours and sterner challenges will definitely lie ahead.

5. Virat Kohli’s stamp and authority over the team:

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Indian captain Virat Kohli is an ambitious man and after the debacle in the Test series, he could have easily gone to his shell and could have played defensive cricket. The first battle was to win on a minefield Wanderers pitch in the Test series and then clinching India’s maiden series win in the rainbow city. Apart from the Cape Town Test, Kohli’s performance has gone better as the series has progressed and has three tons on this tour (429 runs in the ODI series at an average of 143, two hundreds). Kohli is a fierce individual and doesn’t like to take a backward step. The way he has handled young players like Jasprit Bumrah, Pandya, Kuldeep and Chahal has been exemplary and the burden of captaincy has only given more boost to Kohli’s game.