Virat Kohli and India’s team management will not lose too much sleep over the defeat in Johannesburg that kept South Africa alive in the six-match series. Everything that could possibly go wrong, starting with the weather, did go wrong and Kohli will know that his side are unlikely to be as sloppy again.
But after three straight wins where they were far too good for their hosts, the Wanderers defeat gave India a glimpse at some of the weaknesses that could derail what is certain to be a strong World Cup campaign in the English summer of 2019. Kohli is the most accomplished ODI batsman in the world, and has been getting strong support from the opening combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, despite the latter’s struggles in South Africa.

The new-ball duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah promise both wickets and control, and the spin combination of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal has been instrumental in the Indian dominance in South Africa. But with just over 15 months to go until the World Cup, the middle order remains a major headache, and defeat to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final last June showed just why India can’t bank on the peerless Kohli every time.

In Johannesburg, they were first stymied by the rain. Cruising at 200 for 2 when they had to go off, India added just 89 for 5 in the 15.4 overs bowled on resumption. With the ball, they had South Africa on the precipice at 106 for 4, only for David Miller to be reprieved twice in an over – first, a dropped catch from Shreyas Iyer at square leg, and then Chahal overstepping as he slipped a beautiful leg break through the batsman’s defense.
Miller, and the outstanding Heinrich Klaasen — playing only his second game in place of the injured and out-of-form Quinton de Kock — duly made India pay, with the spinners taking a pounding as they struggled to grip the wet ball. “It basically became a T20 game,” said Kohli afterwards. “We did not grab our chances, so we did not deserve to win.”
Leg-spinner Chahal and left-arm googly bowler Kuldeep, who had tormented South Africa to the tune of 21 wickets in the first three games, went for 119 off the 11.3 overs they bowled. They will not be anything like as charitable with a dry ball in hand.
But a cursory look at the numbers since the last World Cup tell you exactly which soft spots India need to address. Kohli has scored 2,859 runs at 84.08 in that time. Rohit (2,244 runs) and Dhawan (1,802) also average over 50, while matching Kohli’s strike-rate of nearly a run a ball. So far, so very good. But what follows does not match the entrees.
Of the middle-order batsmen, only MS Dhoni has aggregated over a thousand (1,455) and his strike-rate of 84.29 tells you that he needs time to play himself in. Kedar Jadhav (778) is next on the list, but has gone off the boil a little of late. Hardik Pandya has not crossed 30 in eight innings since he lit up the home series against Australia last September.
Manish Pandey, after announcing himself with a sublime match-winning century in Sydney two years ago, has found consistency a problem, while Ajinkya Rahane has played his best innings as opener. The solution could well be to move Dhoni to No. 4 and give him time to build an innings. From No. 6, he takes far too much time to find his rhythm.
The contrast with England, currently favorites to win on home soil, is stark. Eoin Morgan (1,962 runs), Jos Buttler (1,392) and Ben Stokes (1,368) all average over 40 since the last World Cup. Morgan strikes at nearly a run a ball, while the explosiveness of Buttler (strike-rate of 123.62) and Stokes (105.31) has been a huge factor in England’s 50-over renaissance.
When India won the World Cup in 2011, they could call on Yuvraj Singh (the player of the tournament), Suresh Raina and Dhoni in the middle order. Raina played match-winning hands in both the quarter-final against Australia and the semi -final against Pakistan, while Dhoni finished things off in the final. The present incumbents will need to up their game significantly if Kohli’s stunning batsmanship is not to be in vain.

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