India skipper KL Rahul blamed the lack of wickets in the middle overs and a below-par show by the middle order batters for the team's 31-run defeat against South Africa in the ODI series opener here on Wednesday.
Resolute batting from home skipper Temba Bavuma (110) and Rassie van der Dussen (129 not out) took South Africa to a match-winning 296 for four as Indian bowlers struggled to take wickets.
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"It was a nice game. There's so much to learn. We started off really well, we couldn't get wickets in the middle. We'll look to see how we get wickets in the middle overs and stop the opposition," Rahul said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
When India chased, Rahul, Rishabh Pant (16), Shreyas Iyer (17) and Venkatesh Iyer (2) could not contribute much.
"The middle-order couldn't get going. We were on par for the first 20-25 overs of the game. I thought we would chase it down easily but SA bowled really well and got crucial wickets," said Rahul.
Asked to comment on the wicket, the India captain said, "I didn't bat after the 20th over, I don't know if it changed drastically. Virat and Shikhar told that it was a good wicket to bat on, you just had to spend some time in the middle, unfortunately we couldn't get the partnership going."
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They (South Africa) did really well, they put pressure on the bowlers and we couldn't get those wickets in the middle. 290+ was 20 runs extra, but we just needed more partnerships in the middle."
Rahul also said that they haven't played one-day cricket for a while but have 2023 World Cup in mind.
"We want to get the best XI on the park. We'll make mistakes but we'll learn from them," he said in reference to the World Cup.
Meanwhile, home captain Bavuma said they played "close to a perfect game". "That's quite hard in 50-over cricket. We can take a lot of confidence. I struggled throughout the innings, Rassie seemed like batting on another wicket. That partnership was the decider," he said.
Talking more about his partnership with van der Dussen, he said, "I tried to partner him as much as I could."
He was also all praise for pacer Marco Jansen, who did not take a wicket but impressed.
"Another good debut for him (Jansen), we feel he can take wickets with the new ball. He's growing from strength to strength and it's nice to see. Aiden (Markram) is always an option with the ball, especially with the new ball. He's been doing a fantastic job."