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Young guns fire for India in series victory over South Africa

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Last updated on 22 Dec 2023 | 12:59 AM
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Young guns fire for India in series victory over South Africa

Arshdeep Singh won the Player of the Series award while Sai Sudharsan was the highest run-scorer for India

A clinical performance from India saw them clinch the series decider against South Africa in Paarl by 78 runs. The hosts tested the Men in Blue for most part of the game but in the end, things turned out to be relatively easy for India. 

Sanju Samson was the major highlight of the first innings, absorbing the pressure with his maiden hundred in international cricket. His 108 off 114 balls lifted India from 132/3 in 30 overs to 296/8 in their 50 overs. 

Chasing 297, South Africa were in the game for as long as Tony de Zorzi (81 from 87 balls) was at the crease. After a promising start, they collapsed from 141/2 to 218 all out. The Proteas average only 19.8 runs/wicket in four ODIs against India this year. 

The last time India toured South Africa, they were whitewashed 3-0 by the hosts. This year, with many first-choice players preparing for the Test series, they have won only their second bilateral series in the Rainbow nation. This is, in fact, one of India's least experienced squad to tour South Africa. On average, the squad had the experience of only 27 matches per player. And that is including Yuzvendra Chahal who didn't take any part in the series. 

Most young guns fired, which is a big upside for India alongside the series win. The Men in Blue don’t play another ODI until the end of the 2024 T20 World Cup. However, whenever they next gear up for a 50-over game, there might be a few outcomes drawn from this series. We look at a few such pointers. 

ODIs provide Arshdeep a new life

Arshdeep Singh was India’s biggest positive of the series. The left-arm seamer was wicketless in the format, playing two ODIs before this series. He was also off the radar in T20s, going at an economy of 10.8 in India’s last eight T20Is. 

However, this ODI series saw a new side of the 24-year-old. Arshdeep snapped 10 wickets in the series at 9.5 runs apiece. Add to it an economy of only 3.5, the southpaw was the obvious choice for Player of the Series award. 

Arshdeep began the series with a five-wicket haul, during which he ran through South Africa’s top order in this first spell. In the second ODI, he held his head high in India’s sinking ship with figures of 8-0-28-1. Arguably, his most crucial contribution of the series came in the decider. Arshdeep began South Africa’s downfall with a perfect yorker to trap de Zorzi in front of the stumps. With the highest scorer of the series out of the picture, it opened the game for India. Arshdeep finished with figures of 4/30. 

Thus, the left armer was effective with both new and older balls. He emerged as a genuine wicket-taking option in the powerplay, who can swing the new ball while attacking the stumps. Later, he can be lethal with his surprise deliveries, as de Zorzi would know. Unlike T20s, ODIs probably give him the breathing space to settle into his rhythm, as batters are not looking to optimise the powerplay from ball one. 

With this series, Arshdeep must have leap-frogged others to become India’s fourth seamer after the Shami-Bumrah-Siraj trio, if not a certain starter in the XI. That first ball six with the bat in Paarl will add to his case. 

Washington Sundar has the edge over Axar? 

Axar Patel’s bowling form is muddling his chances of becoming an ODI regular. The left-arm orthodox spinner has picked only five wickets in nine ODIs this year, averaging 61.2. The economy of 5.3 is his worst in a calendar year.

While Axar was decent on the economy front in this series, he managed a solitary wicket in 16 overs. The dip is considerable given a similar pattern in his T20I numbers. Washington Sundar kept himself relevant in his only appearance in the series. Playing only the decider, the off-spinner pouched 2/38 in his 10 overs. 

India have a spot for only one finger-spin bowling all-rounder when Kuldeep Yadav returns in a full-strength side. Ravindra Jadeja might be given a break from 50-over cricket to accommodate commitments to other formats. Hence, it could come down to Axar and Sundar vying for a spot in the future. Of course, a lot of water is yet to flow under the bridge but currently, Sundar seems to have gained the edge. However, his fitness will remain key to the outcome of this race. 

Tilak, Mukesh not ready for the ODIs?

One of the few all-format players for India on this tour, Mukesh Kumar has suffered a disappointing white-ball leg. In the three T20Is, he picked three wickets and went at an economy of 11. The wicket-taking ability fell further in the ODIs. Mukesh managed only one wicket across three ODIs, leaking runs at 6.2 runs per over. 

Even in the shortest format, Mukesh has tended to bowl a few awry overs. The scope for lack of control expands in a 10-over spell. The same pattern was visible in this series where Mukesh bowled short and wide on both sides of the stumps. 

Tilak Varma also had a disappointing series. Playing his first full ODI series, having featured in only one ODI before, he managed only 63 runs at a strike rate of 57.3. Batting at three in Gqeberha, Tilak scored 10 off 30 balls. In Paarl, he was 7 off 38 balls before hitting his first boundary. His slow start put pressure on Samson, scoring only 31 runs in overs 21 to 30. 

A contender for the ODI World Cup squad not long back, Tilak has been found thin on rotating strike against the spinners. He only scored at 44.7 against the slower bowlers in the series. 

Sudharsan to get more games?

Sai Sudharsan, in his debut series, turned out to be India’s highest run-scorer across three matches. Beginning his ODI career with a cracking cover drive for a first-ball boundary, the left-hander scored an unbeaten 55 in his debut innings. He followed it up with a fighting 62 in a losing cause. In the decider, he had a 50-50 Umpire’s Call going against him that limited his tally to 10 runs. 

Overall, the 22-year-old from Tamil Nadu accrued 127 runs at a strike rate of 89.4. But more than the numbers, it was the stamp of class he showed in his batting. Left-handers always look pretty playing through the off side and Sudharsan scored plenty of runs in that half of the field. He struck nine fours through cover and square drives, accounting for over 40% of his runs against the pacers. 

Sudharsan now averages 60.7 in his List-A carer. Clearly, 50-over cricket is the format he prefers and ideally, he has been fast-tracked into the national side. It will be interesting to see the selectors’ approach regarding him whenever they sit down to pick an ODI side. A good IPL season will help massively to his cause. 

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