After being knocked back in the previous match, India look to crush a South African revival before it becomes a threat to their pursuit of a rare One-day International series triumph when the two sides meet at Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.
Virat Kohli’s men still have a two-match cushion in the series. The Proteas bounced back by winning the rain-affected Pink ODI in Johannesburg by five wickets.
India’s wrist-spinners versus South Africa’s batting line-up is still the key contest going ahead in this series. At Johannesburg, the dual rain intervention affected India’s momentum with the bat and ball. Importantly, it reduced the target sufficiently that, despite AB de Villiers’ relative early dismissal, the Protea batsmen were hardly ruffled while getting over the line.
The Twenty20-mode of that second innings, coupled with playing in the best batting surface of the series, allowed David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen to attack Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The Yadav-Chahal axis was brilliant in each of India’s wins in the series so far.
A dropped catch and dismissing Miller off a no ball didn’t help India’s cause either. Yet, a rain-truncated innings is hardly enough evidence that South Africa have learnt how to combat the spin menace that had their batsmen look like sitting ducks earlier.
Additionally, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah were not used to great effect as Virat Kohli chose to rely on the spinners, even when they were unable to respond to the hosts’ concentrated attack.
In this light, India’s team selection will come into focus in Port Elizabeth. There are still question-marks about the fitness of Kedar Jadhav, who suffered a hamstring injury in Cape Town and missed the previous game.
Albeit a part-timer, in his absence, India lose a reliable bowling alternative, particularly if Hardik Pandya takes some stick and cannot complete his quota of overs. Jadhav is adept at bowling slow spin, and mixing it up well with Chahal and Yadav. India do not have many fall-back options in Jadhav’s absence – Rohit Sharma last bowled an ODI over at Perth in January 2016.
Shreyas Iyer is known to practice leg break and had bowled an over against Sri Lanka in his debut series. Neither of them provides a reliable option like Jadhav does. Kohli himself is the other contender, but he bowls seam-up. Ajinkya Rahane has scored 11 and 8 since making a sparkling 79 at no 4 in Durban.
Pandya’s forgettable tour with the bat (since the first Test in early January) continues, with scores of 14 and 9 in his last two outings. MS Dhoni’s unbeaten 42 not out was the only saving grace for this shaky middle-order, as India struggled to finish well at Johannesburg.
Rohit Sharma’s poor form
The series’ scoreline has conveniently hid the fact that India have a top-heavy batting order, despite the poor form of Rohit Sharma, who has scored 40 runs in the first four ODIs and boasts a gradually sinking ODI average of 11.45 in 12 matches on South African soil.
Kohli (393 runs) and Shikhar Dhawan (271 runs) have scored nearly thrice the number of runs put together by the remaining batsmen (239) and it ought to be a cause of major worry for the Indian think-tank.
This fact will not go overlooked and South Africa will be keen to exploit the Indian line-up’s frailty and dismiss Kohli and Dhawan cheaply to gain an early advantage.
It remains to be seen what bowling combination the hosts will go in with. On a hard and bouncy Wanderers’ wicket, they had dropped a full-time spinner altogether, relying solely on JP Duminy to do that job.
St. George’s Park, though, has a history of aiding spinners and in the last two ODI, the spinners have been in prominence. In January 2017, Imran Tahir took 3/26 against Sri Lanka. In October 2016, Tabraiz Shamsi picked up 3/36 against Australia while South Africa also picked a second spinner in Aaron Phangiso who took 2/17.
South Africa have lost 11 out of 32 matches played at this ground. Six of those losses have come in the last decade as Port Elizabeth hosts at least one ODI every home summer. India’s record is nothing to write about either. They have lost all five ODIs they have played here since 1992.
Four of those defeats came against South Africa. During their 2001-’02 tour, they even slumped to a tame defeat against Kenya. In fact, in five previous ODI outings in Port Elizabeth, India have never got to the 200-run mark. Once again on this trip, India will have to erase a lop-sided record. This time, to carve out a fresh piece of history.
India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur.
South Africa: Aiden Markram (c), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Khaya Zondo, Farhaan Behardien, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), AB de Villiers.
(With inputs from PTI)