South Africa defeated India by 31 runs in the first ODI at Boland Park in Paarl. The result has left India needing to win the remaining two encounters to stay relevant in the three-match rubber.
Batting first upon winning the toss, skipper Temba Bavuma and Rassie van der Dussen vaulted the hosts to a competitive 296/4. While Bavuma fought hard for a 143-ball 110, van der Dussen stroked a sublime unbeaten 129 off just 96 deliveries.
In reply, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli's half-centuries put the Men in Blue in the driver's seat. Their wickets in quick succession, though, saw the chase go off track, with the Proteas sealing victory rather comfortably in the end. Shardul Thakur's maiden ODI half-century was the only thing the Indians could salvage later on.
Here, we take a look at three major observations from the First ODI in Paarl:
#1 Venkatesh Iyer the bowler - missing!
All-rounder Venkatesh Iyer was handed his ODI cap as the batting all-rounder in the XI today. However, in a very surprising move, Iyer was not given a single over by skipper KL Rahul.
Former India batter Sanjay Manjrekar also questioned the same halfway through the game. Given that Iyer is slotting into the role that Hardik Pandya has executed for a fair few years, it was expected that he would be groomed along similar lines.
With the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal and Shardul Thakur failing to create an impact, skipper Rahul had a good opportunity to try Iyer out for a few overs. That wasn't to be though, with the five frontline bowlers sending down 10 overs apiece.
Unless Iyer is thrown into the deep end of the bowl, the team management will struggle to decipher if he can fulfill that role at the international level. India must utilize his skills a lot better going forward in the series, having failed to do so in his debut T20 series against New Zealand too.
#2 Shikhar Dhawan shuns his critics with a fluent fifty for India
Shikhar Dhawan has been a flamboyant batter over the years and his ODI form in 2021 was excellent too. Dhawan accumulated 297 with three half-centuries at an average of just a shade under 60.
Yet, having been discarded from India's T20 setup and a lackluster Vijay Hazare Trophy last month, there were some qualms over Dhawan's spot in the side. The southpaw duly put them to rest, though with a seamless 84-ball 79 that had the chase well under control while he was out there.
Dhawan, in the company of Virat Kohli, went about their business without breaking a sweat and it took an excellent delivery from Keshav Maharaj to bring his stay to a halt.
Post Dhawan's departure, the chase went completely off track and the Men in Blue were never in a position to mount a comeback. Given the competition for spots and the arguably unfair pressure on his shoulders, Dhawan showed why he remains a vital cog in the Indian 50-over setup.
#3 Aiden Markram takes the new ball for South Africa
The world is used to Aiden Markram opening the batting. And while the world has also seen him open the bowling in T20 cricket, to do so in a one-dayer was a move that came out of nowhere.
Perhaps it was a case of the Proteas dangling the carrots and enticing Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul to have a go at him. The duo were content with just knocking him around and with nothing on the surface, it was interesting to see Temba Bavuma's persistence with Markram for a long six-over spell.
Markram prized out the big wicket of Rahul as the latter nicked behind to Quinton de Kock. In hindsight, it turned out to be a case of gold dust for the hosts as six overs of the sixth bowler were done quite early.
That allowed them to hold back Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo for the latter part of the innings. Their change-up came into play with the ball getting softer, thereby throwing the Indian chase off track.
While we may yet see Markram operate with the new ball again going forward, the Indians might come harder in a bid to whack him out of the attack. As far as the series opener was concerned, though, South Africa's gamble with Markram, the opening bowler, paid off big time.