Sunday, first ODI: South Africa register their biggest win over India in terms of wickets (8) and balls (59) remaining.
Tuesday, second ODI: India register their biggest win over South Africa in terms of wickets (9).

The question here is not what changed within a day. It’s what changed after just a day’s play.

The change was that intangible but imperative factor in competitive sport – momentum. After playing their first international match in a year, despite the big loss, India rediscovered their rhythm as a team. Just how quickly it was found and applied showed in their impressive turnaround win.

The nine-wicket win was bookended by vital contributions from two of India’s most important players – Jhulan Goswami (4/42) and Smriti Mandhana (80 not out off 64 balls).

The 38-year-old pacer, opening the bowling, and the 24-year-old southpaw, opening the batting, served yet another reminder of their superlative skill with the new ball in play.

First ODI: India’s big loss to South Africa was nothing but their search for a lost rhythm

After the debacle in the first ODI where India failed to get going with the bat or ball, a good start was crucial in the second. And Goswami and Mandhana did that in such an emphatic manner that the series opener was immediately forgotten. The pacer struck in the first over to dismiss Lizelle Lee, unbeaten in the last match, while the batter smashed two clean, consecutive sixes off the first two balls she faced.

This start set the tone for the match as Mandhana became the first player – man or woman – to score fifty runs or more in ten consecutive ODI chases while Goswami took a four-for for the ninth time in her career.

After winning the toss, Mithali Raj, like Sune Luus in the opener, chose to bowl first and brought back Mansi Joshi in place of newcomer Monica Patel to partner Goswami. The morning conditions and experience showed at once as they sent back both openers within six overs. The Proteas don’t bat as deep with the absence of the injured Dane van Niekerk and Chloe Tryon, and the key was always going to be getting Lee and Laura Wolvaardt who were in rampaging form in the last match.

Goswami got Lee LBW, in a decidedly contentious call as there is no DRS in this series while Joshi got her partner caught behind with a spiffy outswinger… a dismissal she repeated with Luus. Still, South Africa managed to get to 99/3 and looked set for a decent score. But Mithali’s ploy of seam and spin from either ends worked, unlike the last match, and the visitors collapsed to 157.

The veteran got three more wickets with the older ball – including back-to-back bowled – with her picture-perfect line. She narrowly missed a five-for due to a no ball. Her response to that was telling: “I missed it because I bowled a no ball after a long time… many years I think. I need to work on that for the next match.”

At the other side of the break, Mandhana was yet again a class apart as she crafted her 18th ODI half-century with the ease of a player who was never away. It was her 10th straight fifty in a chase, and although this was a small target, she had lost her partner Jemimah Rodrigues early and the batting collapse from the last match was still fresh.

But she found support in her former opening partner Punam Raut (62 off 89) as she played the perfect foil to the left-hander’s classy innings. They put together an unbeaten second-wicket stand of 138 and took the team home.

It’s easy to think of it an untroubled chase as Mandhana began her knock by hitting the dangerous Shabnim Ismail for back-to-back sixes in the first over. But it wasn’t all easy going with runs drying up after Rodrigues fell early again and no boundaries being hit for 47 balls. Yet, it was the 24-year-old opener who started carving out the gaps with her delightful touch, letting Raut settle in. A player whose touch and timing is like few others, there was no stopping her after she found her flow.

Consider this: Mandhana has the highest ODI batting average in this World Cup cycle (starting 2018) ahead of the likes of Meg Lanning and Tammy Beaumont. It’s like the 400-day gap between ODIs didn’t happen for her.

But it did. India didn’t play for 364 days and the rustiness showed in the first match. At the same time, India played for 90 overs, lost the match but found something more and turned it around within a day. There still remain issues that Mithali Raj and Co need to work on as they build on for next year’s World Cup but the core strength and belief is very much the same that powered India to the 2017 World Cup final.