It was surprising to see India put on such a poor show in the first one-dayer against South Africa of its on-going tour. Surprising, because coming off a closely-fought Test series where the batting exuded true grit and an all-round show of brilliance in the Jan 9th Twenty20, India seemed set to romp home in the opening one-dayer.
But the memories of India's previous one-day series in the Rainbow Nation, where the tourists went down 4-0 in an utter hiding, came back to haunt them as they lost by a huge margin of 135 runs. In the 2006-07 tour, India had been subjected to a humiliating string of defeats where the loss margins ranged from 157 runs to 9 wickets (with 112 balls to spare).
In terms of where India have progressed from that disastrous outing, one can only assume that India is back to square one. To begin with, India's bowling was putrid with Nehra's stature as a professional bowler, reduced to that of an amateur. He got simply whipped all around the ground, thanks largely to a wayward and loose line. All the initiative that his bowling partners - Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel - had painstakingly worked up was undone by Nehra's shoddiness.
In fact the quality of bowling from India's front-liners was so mediocre that even the part-timers showed more success as Rohit Sharma picked up to wickets and Suresh Raina, one. Even when India had South Africa against the ropes at 82/3, the bowling lacked the sting and fire-power to peg back the hosts further and instead allowed A B de Villiers and J P Duminy to get away with putting on a 131-run stabilising partnership.
That effort from the batsman had dented any chances of India bringing a quick end to the innings as even when a semi-collapse ensued, the team had enough momentunm to propel itself to 289/9. The obvious reason for the largesse from India, was that the bowlers had not attacked as a cohesive unit, with Zaheer, who turned out the only disciplained performance, receiving little or no support from his fellows.
India's batting was a similar story. The top order fell away like apple crumble with Murali Vijay's ultra-early departure triggering the rot. Tendulkar, who has spent the last month imbued in South African conditions played a very irresponsible shot to get out. He had no business trying to force a off-stump ball onto the on-side, a moment of madness which erupted into a comfortable ballooned catch.
The batting looked very tentative and defensive form the get-go. Rohit Sharma might have been a tad unlucky to be given out caught behind when his bat brushing the pad was mistaken for ball knicking bat. But Yuvraj's shabby poke at an off-stump ball to give catching practice to second slip was simpy unforgivable, espeially given the man's prowess and experience as well as the delicate situation that India were faced with at that juncture in the match.
Virat Kohli's defiant 54 off 70 balls was the only bright spot in India's innings and his knock only drove home the point that a better performance from his fellow-batsmen was indeed possible. Raina and Dhoni pitched in with a couple of decent knocks, but it was hardly enough to extricate India from the predicament of collapse that it had fallen victim to, yet again.
Anyway, the optimistic fan would say it's early days yet in the series and India will bounce back as they did in the tests. Let's indeed hope so.