Team India’s campaign against South Africa started with a defeat in Lucknow on Sunday. And, the vice-captain of the Indian team, Harmanpreet Kaur reckoned the defeat could possibly be the reason of not playing for a long time. Although the captain Mithali Raj and Kaur herself stressed in the pre-match press conference that the team is certainly not looking rusty, the team failed to leave its mark on their return to international cricket after nearly a year.

South Africa won the toss and chose to field first. Put in to bat, India could only manage 177 for 9, a total that came on the back of Mithali Raj’s 50 and a quickfire 40 from Harmanpreet Kaur. And, the openers of the visiting team –  Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt set the stage with a 169-run stand before they took the team home with 59 balls to spare.

“We didn’t get any international cricket for a year, we just played three IPL games. But other than that, we didn’t get any time as a unit. You need to get ready as a unit and spend some together on the field. We are one of the sides that like to learn from our mistakes. We want to learn from our mistakes and prove ourselves,” Harmanpreet Kaur said at the post-match press conference.

“When you’re playing after a long time, there are chances that you can collapse. They also bowled well and we were also just giving our wickets away. We need to be pricey with our wickets and should not give them away so easily. From the next game, we will look at these things and create some partnerships. In the long format, you need those partnerships,” she further added.

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Not only Kaur but Raj too said the same in her post-match interaction with broadcaster Anjum Chopra, where she admitted the need for game time in developing confidence going into a series as well. “It seems like the batters were in good form,” Raj said. “(A) Few of them got starts but couldn’t convert. The bowlers need to be more consistent with lines and lengths, maybe they weren’t consistent because they’re coming back after a long break. A lot goes into game time. If you play games, it shows in your confidence.”

However, prior to the game, Mithali Raj hoped to have 240 to 250 on the board. Although the team failed miserably, Harmanpreet Kaur said that they intend to set that score in their 50-over game. Although the opener Smriti Mandhana started in a great fashion, she failed to carry that forward. She started with a few of fours whereas her opening partner Jemimah Rodrigues struggled in the middle and got out for an 11-ball 1.

One-down Punam Raut then got out for a 29-ball 10. Mithali Raj top-scored with a steady 50. her 54th ODI half-century at No. 4. Kaur joined her when India were 40 for 3 in the 14th over and the duo added a 62-run stand off 72 deliveries, but Kaur gout out for 40. However, it was Kaur who showed the intent to score a bit quickly but the failure of the top-order to accelerate the innings somehow cost them the game.

“We didn’t try much in our batting combination because we wanted to go in with the same (opening) combination we fielded one year ago, when we last played ODIs (in November 2019),” Kaur said when she was asked about the opening pair. “Punam at the time was also batting one-down. But, unfortunately, we didn’t get a partnership going (at the top) today.”

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“Nowadays, everyone is looking for big totals. Indian team too is looking for that. Every game we want to score more than 250. But for that, you need some time, some matches. We had found that rhythm earlier. But to find that rhythm again, we will need some time. In the next game, we will try to do what we want to do as a unit,” Kaur, who was playing her 100th ODI, expressed.

However, not only batters but bowlers too failed to take wickets early. And, with this win, South Africa have registered their seven successive ODI wins as well. Apart from the spin-trio – Rajeshwari Gaekwad, Poonam Yadav and Deepti Sharma, and the veteran pacer Goswami, India handed the debut cap to Monica Patel. The 21-year-old got the chance ahead of Mansi Joshi since Shikha Pandey and Pooja Vastrakar aren’t part of this series. However, Harmanpreet Kaur believes this will be a good learning experience for her.

“There were no partnerships even with bowling. In whatever cricket you play, you need partnerships. Our bowling wasn’t up to the mark. Jhulu di (Jhulan Goswami) was there and our spinners are also very good. It can happen if you’re playing after a long time and things don’t go in your favour,” she again shared.

“As a team, whenever you have a new player, you want them to give a chance in the first few games,” she said. “In the middle of the series, it becomes difficult to give them opportunities. We wanted to give chances to her today or the next game. Mansi is there, she’s experienced. It was her first game but she did quite well. I hope she will learn from this game and get better and better,” Harmanpreet Kaur concluded.

Both the team will take on each other in the second ODI on March 9.

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