India vs South Africa three things: Dhoni hits back in style, India's middle order problems, Axar's comeback Sports News

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ndia bounced back to draw level 1-1 in the ODI series after they beat South Africa by 22 runs in the second ODI at the Holkar stadium in Indore . MS Dhoni led the way with 92* off 86 balls to help India post a respectable 247 and then the bowlers, led by Axar Patel, responded to help India past the finish line. Here are three biggest talking points from the match:

With 11 runs needed off the last over, Dhoni couldn't finish off the last match and the criticism and doubt over his abilities was seemingly unending. On social media, fans wanted nothing short of his head as questions were raised about whether Dhoni the 'finisher' was finished. It didn't help that former India pacer Ajit Agarkar had created an uproar by questioning the captain's place in the side. Dhoni wasn't doing too badly in ODIs though - his last five ODI scores before Wednesday's match read - 31, 69, 47, 5, 65 at an average of 43.40 and the criticism might just be a reflection of the high standards we expect of him. But on Wednesday Dhoni silenced his critics inside and outside the stadium in the best way possible: with a stellar performance. He walked in with India at 82/3 in the 18th over. In the next 12 overs, he saw Rahane, Raina, Axar depart, but kept his composure and stayed in the middle until the last ball was bowled to end at 92* off 86 balls. Dhoni had clearly come out with a plan. He tackled the spinners off the front foot and the pacers off the backfoot, and it worked perfectly. He constantly rotated the strike with quick singles and twos and never got bogged down. In a flawless innings, 40 of his 92 runs came in singles and twos (28x1s, 6x2s), the rest came from seven fours and four sixes. He used the pull shot effectively against the pacers and it yielded three fours and a six. Dhoni batted cleverly with the tail-enders, farmed the strike well and added crucial little partnerships to ensure India survived the 50 overs, having being reduced to 165/7 in the 40th over. He then followed up the innings with some brilliant captaincy. Almost every time he made a bowling change, India got a wicket. He was aggressive in field placements when needed, like when he had three slips when tail-ender Kagiso Rabada was at the crease. He also took three catches and a stumping to cap off a brilliant all-round performance, one with which he may have silenced his critics in style. India's middle and lower-middle order problems India may have won the match but that doesn't conceal their batting problems. Yet again their middle and lower middle order (4-7) failed to deliver. Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Axar Patel and Dhoni scored just 117 runs between them, of which the captain scored 92 and the three others scored just 25. In the last match the middle and lower-middle order contributed just 47 runs with an average 11.75. Kohli's ODI form is hardly praiseworthy presently. On Wednesday, he was run out after a miscommunication with Ajinkya Rahane and was livid as he trudged off having scored just 12 runs. Incidentally, he's been run out twice in last three matches on this tour. Tottering at 59/2 in the 13th over, India was in need of a partnership but wickets kept falling at regular intervals. After Kohli, Rahane departed and then Raina was caught behind off Morkel for a duck in the next over. Axar Patel's batting woes continued as he was trapped LBW for 13 by Dale Steyn six overs later. The 3rd to 6th wicket partnerships could garner 23, 20,2 and 20 runs respectively. Kohli's form is now a cause for concern given he's gone without a fifty for the last 12 ODI innings and had averaged just 27. Raina has carried his poor form from the T20Is and averaged just 20.33 in his last six ODIs. The middle and lower-middle order problem is hardly new. Since the start of the year, India's middle and lower-middle order has averaged just 31.69 in ODIs, ahead of only West Indies (28.17) and Sri Lanka (27.24) amongst the top eight teams. Even Zimbabwe and Bangladesh's middle order have done better. For India, it's now a problem they need to sort it out as soon as possible. Axar's comeback There were a lot of eyebrows raised when Dhoni left Amit Mishra out of the playing eleven despite him having bowled beautifully in the last ODI. Dhoni's rationale was that Axar was a better No.7 batsman than Mishra and that gives the team more balance. Harbhajan Singh came in for the injured Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohit Sharma replaced Stuart Binny as Dhoni reckoned three pacers were needed. Axar didn't exactly have a a good time in the T20Is and was hammered for 62 runs in the 7 overs he bowled at an average of 8.85. He picked just one wicket in the two T20Is and not surprisingly was dropped for the first ODI. A raised eyebrow over his inclusion on Wednesday could be forgiven. also see South Africa vs India: India look to defend their number-two spot in ICC ODI rankings South Africa vs India: India look to defend their number-two spot in ICC ODI rankings India vs South Africa: Phases where we didn't bowl well put a lot of pressure on us, says Dhoni India vs South Africa: Phases where we didn't bowl well put a lot of pressure on us, says Dhoni India vs South Africa: MS Dhoni's back as the captain but what do we expect from him? India vs South Africa: MS Dhoni's back as the captain but what do we expect from him? But while Axar didn't justify his captain's faith in his batting abilities, he more than made amends with the ball. He took three crucial wickets and can be credited with turning the match around for India. South Africa had got off to a good start and seemed to be cruising at 40/0 in the 7th over but Axar struck in his first over to have Hashim Amla stumped. Faf du plessis and JP Duminy then stitched together a 82-run stand and in desperate need of a wicket, Dhoni brought on Axar in the 24th over. Axar rewarded his captain's faith by trapping Duminy (36) LBW. He then produced the massive breakthrough in his next over to send back Du Plessis (51) who was looking ominous. The two wickets in as many overs turned it around for India and Axar ended with figures of 10-0-39-3. In the post-match presentation Dhoni said that Axar varied his length really well and adjusted to the demands of the surface. And the bowler credited his captain for his new found success. "I needed to back my abilities and my strengths. I was thinking just that in the middle. The captain told me to do what I always do, stick to my strengths and let the batsman try and do different things," Axar said after the match. While Axar may have done well with the ball on Wednesday night, he still averages a mere 8.37 in 19 ODIs so far. If he wants to cement his place in the side, he will need to improve that statistic drastically.

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