Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
You can't get away from the talk about wristspin in this series. Why are South Africa not picking them out of the hand? Why are they getting beaten in the air? Why they can't adjust to the slow pace? Why do they freeze at the sight of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal? Wristspin is everywhere. It's all around you. There's enough of it to put politicians to shame. However, in the background, India have been doing things India have not been known for.
As they went from 160 for 2 in the 28th over to 228 for 5 in the 42nd in Cape Town, it seemed like yet another middle-order muddle, which it was, but there was something different this time. For too long, on flat pitches, India have been guilty of not starting the acceleration early enough.
Back in 2015-16, as India failed to defend multiple small 300s, Glenn Maxwell famously said batsmen slowing down near their centuries was costing India those extra 20-30 runs. While that is an accusation the players are best placed to debate, India went through a phase where the batsmen followed the formula of trying to bat through an innings, the old-fashioned way. That delayed the taking of risks, and as average scores go higher on flat pitches in T20-empowered ODI cricket, India ran the risk of being left behind.
This was also obvious in India's defeat to Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy, when they failed to defend 321. The two openers faced 207 balls between them for not as many runs. Similarly, India's 337 against New Zealand in Kanpur featured two centuries at strike-rates less than 110. It took a special effort from Jasprit Bumrah in the end to save that match. These aim-to-last-to-the-end innings are a great return on slightly slow or a slightly seaming pitches, but on the flat ones that we see much more of, there is always a danger of falling short of a par total.
In Cape Town, it was missed that India are now looking to correct that. After Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan repaired the innings following a first-over wicket, there was clear impetus on one of them to go hard, which in this case was Dhawan. A strike-rate of 120 over 63 balls was preferable to a run-a-ball 120. The same was clear in Ajinkya Rahane's approach. Even the promotion for Hardik Pandya was more significant than the ones he has been getting to end easy chases quickly.
As it turned out, the pitch slowed down remarkably, and India ended up losing both Rahane and Pandya in the search for quick runs in the middle overs. MS Dhoni was left to bat out overs 33 to 42 without taking risks even if it meant a dip in the run-rate. India would still have wanted Dhoni to hit at close to a-run- a-ball rather than a-run-in-two, but the cautiousness could be understood. How Dhoni manages to keep picking those singles in these pressure moments - which is what his role seems to be - will be interesting to see, but the intent to not score small 300s is apparent.
Over the last few years, the best way to be competitive against India has been to put them in on a flat track and hope that they bat within themselves and don't go too far over 300. It's not a major weakness but it has been one of the rare ones in their otherwise strong one-day game. On a flat Wanderers pitch, the same strip that the 434 match was played on, with a tiny boundary at one end, there is every chance the spinners might be less effective than they have been at defending totals so far. There is every chance, especially if AB de Villiers gets going in a chase, those extra runs over 300 might prove vital.
Keeping that, and the standardised ODI surfaces in ICC tournaments, in mind, India's new approach and how they react to a relative failure of that approach in Cape Town will be important. They might have been undone by a slowing surface, necessitating another recovery act, but for a change India were looking to give their bowlers those extra runs as opposed to looking at them with exasperation when an opposition chases down 300.