PAARL: KL Rahul will have to show drastically improved leadership acumen when he leads India against a buoyant South African side in the second ODI on Thursday, with the three-match series and his long-term Test captaincy ambitions both at stake.Rahul was at best mediocre in terms of “on-your-feet-thinking”, something that’s basic to art of captaincy, and also didn’t look the part with the bat in a deflating 31-run defeat in the opening ODI where India were outplayed for the better part of the game.The middle-order, which had been a problem since Virat Kohli’s heady days as captain, is still sticking out like a sore thumb and no one knows what exactly the solution is.Once again, it was a case of one opener — Shikhar Dhawan on this occasion — and the indomitable Kohli holding fort before the middle-order caved in on a slower pitch where there was turn and the ball gripped, making a run-of-the-mill seamer Andile Phehlukwayo look formidable.South Africa crushed India both strategically as well as on skills and therein lay serious questions about Rahul’s wares as captain.The most dominant query was what exactly was Venkatesh Iyer doing in the team if he was not bowling at least four to five overs as the sixth bowler when Yuzvendra Chahal and Shardul Thakur were being taken to the cleaners by Rassie van der Dussen and Temba Bavuma?If Venkatesh is playing as a specialist batter at No.6 then why not use Suryakumar Yadav, who is more experienced with a better range of strokes under pressure?The next question that arose was whether Rahul spoke to Chahal or Ashwin when Van der Dussen and Bavuma started playing the sweep shots — both conventional and reverse sweep on a good batting strip.There wasn’t a singular inspired bowling change unlike Proteas who introduced Aiden Markram’s off-breaks first-up and bottled up the Indian skipper.When India batted, the game was lost at the halfway stage once Dhawan and Kohli were out in quick succession following their 90-plus stand. Suddenly, the strip where batting looked easy became difficult.Shreyas Iyer’s well-documented struggles against the short ball were again exposed on the day and the Mumbaikar would know that a place in the Indian playing XI comes at a premium and he can’t go on wasting chances like a millionaire.
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