Another brilliant century by Rohit Sharma gone in vain © AFP
Another brilliant century by Rohit Sharma gone in vain © AFP

India‘s woes in its home series against South Africa found an extension when the latter pulled off a thrilling five-run victory to take a 1-0 lead in the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series, at Kanpur on Sunday. The game saw the Indians dominate for the most part during their innings, comfortably poised for victory with Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni at the crease, before a couple of quick wickets changed the course of the match completely. What defined the game however, were the last five overs of both innings. Amit Banerjee lists five reasons why India lost the first ODI at the Green Park in Kanpur on Sunday. Scorecard: India vs South Africa 2015, 1st ODI at Kanpur

India haven’t been having the best of run in limited-overs cricket since their semi-final finish in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. They lost the three-match ODI series against a resurgent Bangladesh side 1-2. Although one would have to admit the sheer quality that the Bangladeshis displayed in that tournament as well as in their victories against Pakistan and South Africa, the call for the sacking of MS Dhoni as the limited-overs skipper began to gain mileage.

Fast-forward to the ‘Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Trophy’ 2015. The ‘Captain Cool’ returns to the helm the ‘Men in Blue’ after a well-deserved break of a three-month duration. The Indian fans, especially the ones who haven’t lost their faith in the 2011 World Cup-winning captain, would have expected Dhoni to deliver and silence his critics after the refreshing rest. Sadly, they are yet to discover the joy of victory in the series so far, after India conceded a 0-2 series defeat in the three-match Twenty20 International (T20I) series, and started the ODI series with what one could describe as a five-run ‘choke’ (a term that seems to be exclusively reserved for the Proteas).

South Africa managed to put up the first-ever 300-plus total at the Green Park in Kanpur on Sunday, thanks to another blazing century by their ever-consistent skipper AB de Villiers, who had great support at the other end from T20I captain Faf du Plessis (62 off 77) and a lively cameo from Farhaan Behardien (35 off 19).

India, in reply, were cruising for the most part during their innings, with Rohit Sharma continuing his mindblowing form with a score of 150 off just 133 balls. At a score of 269 for 3, with four overs to spare, few would have had the thought of a narrow defeat cross their mind. Yet that turned out to be the fate for the hosts. So what exactly are the reasons for India’s spectacular defeat? While one can make the broad assumption of the hosts messing it up in the last five overs of both innings, there are several other points to be noted, which are listed below:

1. Ashwin’s injury: Ravichandran Ashwin was viewed as India’s primary weapon with the ball in their home series against South Africa even before the squads were announced. Ashwin has a dominant aura on home soil, and often is the centre of the bowling plans for matches played on tracks that are known to be conducive for spin. Thus, one can imagine the blow that the Indians must’ve received when the news of Ashwin getting ruled out of the ongoing series due to a side strain.

Earlier in the match, Ashwin collected his 100th ODI wicket when he dismissed Quinton de Kock with a gem of a delivery. The Tamil Nadu off-spinner dove in the 32nd over, following which he was visibly uncomfortable and requested skipper Dhoni to take him off the attack. While Harbhajan has replaced him for the remainder of the one-dayers, his absence did have its effect on the match as Dhoni had to fall back on Stuart Binny and Suresh Raina, with the former getting hammered all over the park in a disastrous spell.

2. India’s terrible death bowling: South Africa had reached a score of 194 for 3 after 40 overs, and had added 23 runs over the next four overs. While the scoring rate was decent enough, 300 looked like a difficult prospect. Yet one could never be sure with a certain AB de Villiers at the crease. Together with JP Duminy — the star of the T20I series — South Africa collected 21 runs off the 45th over by Binny, which forced Dhoni to take the Karnataka all-rounder out of the attack.

3. Raina coming in late: There were a couple of major changes in the Indian batting order for the first ODI. Not Ajinkya Rahane was finally picked to play after being overlooked during the T20Is. He took the No. 3 spot from Test skipper Virat Kohli, a position that he may have sealed for now with a fine innings of 60 off 82 balls. Another change was that of Dhoni coming in at three-down instead of Raina, a move that many would assume to be his intention of building the innings in the middle stages and not just finishing it.

As a result, while Rohit was playing the big shots and propelling India towards the target, Dhoni was taking his own time, dealing with the ones and twos. Raina’s turn finally came in the 47th over after Rohit’s dismissal, by which time India needed to accelerate the innings, with the southpaw getting dismissed in just three deliveries. The Indian team might want to review this move in one of their meetings ahead of the second ODI.

4. Dhoni fails to guide India past the finish line: Dhoni played a calm innings for the most part, playing a supporting role to Rohit as long as the latter lasted at the crease. Once Rohit was dismissed, the burden fell on Dhoni’s shoulders to take India past the finish line — a task that he has so gloriously achieved in the past. This time, however, things were a little different. Dhoni did not have the same aura of invincibility in the final over, with 11 runs needed off it, as he had in similar situations in the past.

One does feel however, that Dhoni should have begun the acceleration in his innings much earlier than the final over. Dhoni has been observed building the tension till the final over, and then getting his side to victory with a couple of lusty blows. This time however, the build-up only ended with a brilliant final over by Kagiso Rabada.

5. Excellent death bowling by the Proteas: What ultimately won the game for the Proteas was their death bowling, this time by the duo of Tahir and Rabada. While the 47th over by Tahir was the major turning point in the game, with the dangerous-looking Rohit and Raina back in the pavilion, the task was completed by Rabada in the final over. The young pace sensation, who is known for his ability to extract bounce as well as for his disciplined approach, stuck to an attacking line and length against Dhoni. After failing to get a boundary off the first two balls, Dhoni miscued an attempted slog in the final over that resulted in a simple return catch for the Rabada. The final nail in the coffin of course, was Binny getting dismissed off a similar shot in the following delivery.

While India may have encountered quite a few positives in the opening one-dayer, they will have to make some bold moves for the second one-dayer in order to get back on track, aside from getting their first win of the home series. All eyes will be focused on Dhoni, who is yet to deliver, in the second one-dayer. Amit Mishra, who managed to bowl Hashim Amla with a beautiful flipper, may have to share the responsibility of getting important breakthroughs in the middle overs alongside Harbhajan. Most importantly, India’s death bowling needs a massive impetus for their chances of victory to improve.

(Amit Banerjee, a reporter at CricketCountry, takes keen interest in photography, travelling, technology, automobiles, food and, of course, cricket. He can be followed on Twitter via his handle @akb287)