Johannesburg: A livid Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni squarely blamed his bowlers for the crushing loss in the opening ODI against South Africa, saying that their bad performance left the batsmen under pressure.
The Indian bowlers were hammered by South Africa, who posted 358/4 before dismissing the visitors for 217 in 41 overs yesterday.
"Overall I think it was a bad performance. But it started with the bowling initially. This was not a 300-plus wicket. We didn`t start well, and we were supposed to bowl slightly up," said Dhoni.
"Experience of these conditions is crucial. South African bowlers know what lengths to bowl and that is why I want my bowlers to step up. You can`t give away 300 or 300-plus runs, because that also puts pressure on the batsmen.
"Right from the start then, they have to go after opposition bowlers, which in these conditions is slightly difficult. At the same time, we needed the batting to back the bowlers up," he added.
South Africa`s opening pair of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock added 152 runs for the first wicket, with the latter going on to score 135.
And then in the end, there was the cruel barrage from AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, garnering 48 runs in the last three overs. It meant the Proteas reached a mammoth 358 for 4 in 50 overs.
"If you see death bowling for different teams across the world, bowlers are going for runs. With the extra fielder inside the circle and the lack of reverse swing, even the best bowlers will go for runs," Dhoni said.
"So, the new ball bowling becomes important, especially in conditions like these. More often than not, the last ten overs will go for runs and so it is important to take wickets in the first ten overs, so we can put pressure in the middle overs and so that they do not have many wickets in the end," he opined.
On paper, it looked a good plan, but it wasn`t executed properly on the field. All frontline bowlers went for more than 50 runs each, with only Mohammad Shami showing any wherewithal to take wickets (3-68).
As per Dhoni`s reasoning then, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma were the most to blame, but he did not single out anyone in particular for criticism.
"Mohit is the one with the inexperience and it will be a good learning for him. Bhuvi has played a fair bit outside the subcontinent, which means that he should quickly adapt to the conditions.
"But at the same time let`s not be unfair on him. It`s one of many games where he has not done really well. So let us think that it was an off day for him and move on," he said.
Ultimately, even the Indian batting, growing in stature and fame over the past 11 months, failed to perform the rescue act.
And it could possibly get tougher in the next game, since the Men in Blue will be fighting to save the series. The conditions, meanwhile, aren`t expected to be a whole lot different.
"International calendar doesn`t allow for too many practice sessions and practice games nowadays. You have to adapt with what you have, we have to follow the schedule. South Africa have some really good fast bowlers, especially Dale Steyn.
"He was swinging the ball and consistently hitting the good lengths. Morne Morkel gets a lot more bounce than other bowlers because of his height. Rohit Sharma gave him respect, but when you are chasing 350 runs, you have to play shots. Shikhar Dhawan didn`t really get out to a short ball," Dhoni said.
"He is good with the cut and the pull, and he went with his instincts. So, you have to play the big shots and try to rattle the bowlers. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn`t.
"We scored 220 odd runs, and we gave away 350. If I weigh that, then maybe the bowling was slightly worse than batting. We have to step up overall. Bowlers have to learn from this game and batsmen have to mentally prepare themselves for the next one," Dhoni signed off.