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Runs, rotation or Rajkot – Who’s to blame for India’s tame surrender?

The experts stood around the pitch before the toss on a sultry 38-degree day in Rajkot, microphones in hand. But the temperamental 22-yard strip of earth had no mood to agree with anything they said.

The coin dropped in South Africa’s favour. They let out collective sighs of relief, went out to bat, surged forward and even looked like crossing that 300-run mark. But, with unexpected dents, they could only manage 270. Faf du Plesis was confident during the mid-innings interview of containing Team India’s chase and winning the game. He was right. And he had a disciplined bowling attack, a disillusioned Indian batting line-up, and the pitch to thank.

The on-going shuffle of the batting order may have meant the Indians were anything but settled, but this reordering may hold good for the future. In fact, Virat Kohli at No. 3 and captain MS Dhoni at No. 4 brought some health back into the line-up, and could be a sign of good things to come. On the flip side, rotation or not, Shikhar Dhawan has managed no consistency at all.

Ultimately, it wasn’t about who batted where, it was just about a slowing wicket which misbehaved at times with awkward bounce, pushing set batsman on the backfoot and slowing things down to the point where even Virat Kohli scored at an unthinkable 77 runs per 100 balls.

Dew, too, played a significant role – by abstaining from the game.

Regular rotation of singles could have still helped India allay the burden of a demanding run rate at the closing stages, but adrenaline and the single-minded mission of only clearing the boundary, left the home team with too much to do in too little time. The ball duped the swings and the heaves with precise certainty.

The Rajkot pitch is one of many dying pitches for cricket around the world. And batting second only makes it worse. Blaming only the Indian middle-order shuffle on this loss would do the team an injustice.

Yes, the famed Indian batting prowess and flamboyance, especially in run chases, needs to come to the fore. There are two games still left to play.

Overturning a 1-2 deficit is not impossible. Dhoni will need use all his know-how of the Chennai wicket in the next game. But so would Du Plessis, Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings teammate.

The IPL has definitely made most of the South Africans feel at home in India. So far, they have proved to be a better cricket team in a familiar backdrop.

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