India vs South Africa: Anatomy of a clean sweep and lessons for future

India took lessons from the 0-3 loss against Australia to win the ODI series against South Africa 3-0
 Indian team celebrate after winning the ODI series 3-0 on Sunday
Indian team celebrate after winning the ODI series 3-0 on Sunday Photo | Shashidhar Byrappa, EPS

CHENNAI: In many ways, India's last home ODI series against Australia was full of missed opportunities. An opening match where India let Australia make a comeback with the bat after smashing their highest total against Australia, followed by a missed chance to chase down 258. By the time the final game of the series came in, Australia eased past to complete the clean sweep.

There was not a lot of time to decode the lessons learned from the ODI series because the T20I series was scheduled to be played two days after the final ODI at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

Once the focus shifted to T20Is, it continued for the longest time as the five-match series in the shortest format against Bangladesh in April and May required the full attention. Only when the multi-format series against South Africa was announced, India got the opportunity to use the learnings from the Australian series.

When it comes to the South Africa series, which India won 3-0 on Sunday, the biggest positive for the side was in the form of leadership duo Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana's contribution with the bat.

Mandhana had scored 63 runs in two innings against Australia. Those were hard-earned runs especially when both of her opening partners were not in great form. For Captain Kaur, it was a forgetful series with the bat as she could only score 17 runs across three innings. Things changed in Bengaluru for both of them as South Africa were mostly clueless about how to dismiss them before they did any damage.

India's bowling saw the highest of highs in the Australia series when they restricted Australia to 256 in the second ODI and the lowest of lows followed in the third ODI when the visitors posted a mammoth 338 against the same bowling unit.

While Laura Wolvaardt and Marizane Kapp did push them to the limits in the second ODI by almost chasing 326, the difference from the series six months ago was how well Pooja Vastrakar held her nerve in the final over to deny victory to the opposition. In the final match of the series, despite a century-opening partnership, India's bowlers led by Deepti Sharma, Arundhati Reddy and Shreyanka Patil, made an exceptional comeback to keep South Africa's score under par (215/8).

The most talked about point of difference between two teams during the loss against Australia was India's fielding. And up to a certain extent, it was the concern, especially looking at the efforts put in by their opposition. There have been significant developments on that front in this series.

There is still room for improvement in the fielding department but by the looks of it, India are doing way better than past. Even though there was a gap of six months between the two ODI series, the series loss against Australia allowed this side to reflect.

"After that series (vs Australia), we sat as a unit and spoke about what went wrong and what went right," all-rounder Shreyanka Patil told media after the series win. "We kept connected through calls, which kept us united. We had bowling and batting camps, and even during that, we were focused on our fielding as well. The hard work of all the players was top-notch. Once you keep working hard the results will always show up. We dominated the way we did in Bengaluru with a 3-0 win, and we are happy. The message is very clear. I know what my role is and the management has been supporting me and giving me confidence," she added.

With the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka and later T20 World Cup in Bangladesh starting from October 3, the singular target of this team will shift to T20Is.

They will play in this format only in December 2024, that too against Australia in Australia. Like the lessons learned from the previous Australia series came in handy against South Africa, one can hope that the lessons from the first clean sweep on home soil since 2019, would be useful in Australia, especially with the 50 over World Cup coming to India in 2025.

Brief scores: South Africa 215/8 in 50 overs (Wolvaardt 61; Sharma 2/27, Reddy 2/36) lost to India 220/4 in 40.4 overs (Smriti Mandhana 90, Harmanpreet Kaur 42; Khaka 1/38) 

 Indian team celebrate after winning the ODI series 3-0 on Sunday
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