South Africa wolves lack bite
South Africa's Test side has a discipline, know-how and physicality that has worn down the best the world can offer. Opponents bounce off the South Africa Test side like rubber balls off an oak door. South Africa's one-day side does not possess the same authority. It is a side trying to disguise its deficiencies as well as it can.
AB de Villiers wants South Africa's one-day side to have the same resilience and sense of threat. That is only natural, it is the side he captains. He had promised to release a pack of wolves against India but, if it suffers many more bowling injuries, it could become the sort of wolf pack that even Mowgli learned he could stare down in The Jungle Book.
India's ODI side has moved on from Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj and remains a side to be reckoned with. South Africa must envy their array of young talent and the way it has been integrated so seamlessly. They took on India without Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn, and then saw Morne Morkel fail to complete his allocation because of a strained quad. Those who replaced them lack the same presence.
Morkel will undergo a scan on Friday and even if the provisional assessment is that it is only a minor strain, it can still take up to seven days to clear, leaving the disturbing prospect that Steyn and Morkel might miss the next match against Pakistan in a day-night encounter at Edgbaston. Chris Morris, who had a good IPL for Chennai Super Kings, might be a preferred replacement on the grounds that South Africa have been reluctant to risk Vernon Philander's vulnerable physique in the one-day game.
Unable to call on such talent as India, South Africa were forced to gamble. Robin Peterson had never reached 50 in 68 previous ODIs, and only batted in the top six on seven previous occasions, but he was thrown in at No. 3.
It was logical enough. Pre-tournament talk had concentrated on exacting batting conditions in English conditions, with two new balls, but the reality was far more amenable to batsmen. Here was a promoted lower-order batsman playing the ODI innings of his life on a flat pitch under sunny skies. As India's spinners fought back by suffocating South Africa in the middle order, not much seemed to have changed.
If South Africa experimented with their batting line-up, with the ball they played according to pre-set notions. They chose to bowl, said de Villiers, because the stats told them to, even though the forecast indicated that the morning cloud would burn off almost as soon as the match started. They made liberal use of the short ball, said de Villiers, because it was the best way to go against subcontinent batsmen.
"Against a subcontinent team, I still prefer some of the batters to hit us off our lengths instead of hitting us down the ground when we are on the fullish side, especially in English conditions," de Villiers said.
"I don't mind the guys having that aggressive mindset. I am very proud of the way we fought back. We got five wickets in a very short time in the middle overs and I think that was probably the short ball paying off.
"There was 100percent of the pack of wolves out there today. Every time I connected with the team, their energy and intent and awareness was there. Losing Morne Morkel was a shock but the way the boys fought back to restrict them to a chase-able score was a great effort."
But two of the wolves were Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt. Tsotsobe was the wolf who keeps losing his bearings and has to be guided back into the pack before he strays too much. Kleinveldt is the wolf that looks as if it has dined out on too much elk and moose. He recently suggested that he had lost 10kgs but, if he had lost it, it looked easy enough to find.
Kleinveldt is 30 and only made his ODI debut earlier this year. He was probably a little taken aback when the opportunity finally came. It must have seemed "a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world", as the Kinks once sung about Lola. When he did force an error against the short ball, it twice sailed just out of the reach of South Africa's fielders; Shikhar Dhawan was 27 when he cleared Morkel at fine leg and 69 when he pulled over the head of Peterson, well in from the rope at deep square.
At least Ryan McLaren, portrayed as Kallis lite, had a thoroughly decent game. He bowled with more intelligent than most, conceding 70 but dismissing three of India's top six in the process. He even bowled a yorker - such a rarity it almost amounted to insubordination.
He then made an unbeaten 71 at No. 8 to take South Africa within 26 runs, a more respectable outcome than seemed had likely when Morkel limped out at No. 11 with South Africa still 75 shy of their target. South Africa accepted that it was a calculated risk for Morkel to bat, but if they are to qualify, it might now come down to net run rate and the 48 runs added in the last 7.1 overs, seemingly with no damage done in the process, was a rewarding outcome.
Without two disastrous run outs - first Peterson, later David Miller, potentially destructive but run out without facing a ball - South Africa would have got closer than many expected. At 155 for 2 around midway, they were in the match; at 188 for 6, with Miller and Faf du Plessis standing at the same end, discussing who had been run out, they were out of the match.
"Miscommunication in the heat of battle," de Villiers called it. "The run outs cost us dearly today." He smiled, but it was the smile of the wannabe leader of a wolf pack. The rabbits in Bute Park would have been best advised to remain out of sight if South Africa's captain fancied creeping through a gap in the hedge for a late-night stroll
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo