South Africa outplayed India in all departments to register a five-wicket win in the low-scoring fifth and final One-day International to seal the series 4-1 in Lucknow on Wednesday.

Mithali Raj top scored for India with a well-crafted 79 not out but the rest of batting lineup couldn’t rally around it, finishing with 188/9 with Harmanpreet Kaur retiring hurt on 30 off 55. South Africa then rode on Anneke Bosch (58) and Mignon du Preez’s (57) half-centuries to chase down the target in 48.2 overs.

The series marked India’s return to international cricket after 12 months. Coming back after a long break, the India players had only a handful of training sessions ahead of the series as they also had to undergo a mandatory one week quarantine. They were naturally rusty to start with and by the end of the series, it seemed that they have a lot of work to do if they want to be title contenders for the World Cup early next year.

“Clearly, we do need some camps before series. We were underprepared, coming from a gap. The batting unit tried to improve consistently match by match. Our spinners need to improve,” said Mithali at the post-match presentation.

“Other than the result, it’s been a good series for us. Exposure for the young players, and opportunity to those players looking for rhythm. Congratulations to South Africa for doing so well in our conditions,” she added.

South Africa’s chase got off to a disastrous start as the visitors lost their top three batters including skipper Sune Luus (10) for just 27 runs. Lizelle Lee, the series’ highest run-getter, was absent.

Du Preez (57) and Bosch (58) the stabilised South Africa’s run chase with a 96-run partnership for the fourth wicket before Indian bowlers pulled things back, dismissing both the set batters in quick succession.

At that stage South Africa were 131/5, still needing 58 runs in 13 overs for a win.

Marizanne Kapp (36 not out) and Nadine de Klerk (19 not out), however, ensured there was no further hiccups as the duo shared unbeaten 58 runs for the sixth wicket to guide South Africa home.

For India, left-arm spinner Rajeshwari Gayakwad picked up three wickets conceding just 13 runs off, with four maidens, in her 10 overs.

Earlier, Mithali steered India’s innings after India lost three early wickets with the scoreboard reading 53 in the 13th over.

Together with Harmanpreet, who retired hurt due to an injury, Mithali shared 71 runs for the fourth wicket before the former left the ground in the 31st over.

India lost opener Priya Punia (18) early before India’s run-getter in the series Punam Raut (10) and Smriti Mandhana (18) departed in successive overs.

Dayalan Hemalatha (2) and Sushma Verma (0) failed to provide the much-needed support to Mithali as the veteran Indian batter brought up her second fifty of the series and 55th overall in 78 balls in the 38th over.

Mithali was left stranded at one hand as India kept on losing wickets at regular intervals and were bowled out in 49.3 overs. Medium pacer de Klerk was the pick of the bowlers for South Africa with figures of three for 35.

With PTI Inputs