With a historic series triumph sealed, India are expected to put their bench strength to test while a vanquished South Africa would aim for a consolatory win when the two sides square off in the sixth and final One-day International at Centurion on Friday.
Virat Kohli’s side have already won the six-match series with a 4-1 margin, after victories in Durban, Centurion, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Their only loss came at the rain-affected fourth ODI in Johannesburg.
With victory in the last game, India also reclaimed the no 1 spot in the ICC ODI Rankings, taking over from South Africa. Having won the series, they might see this as a chance to prepare for three-match T20I series to follow soon after. Yet, the visitors would also like to find a balance between going all out in a dead rubber and resting a few players, keeping in mind a long overseas schedule that is lined up later this year.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has nearly played non-stop since the limited-overs leg of the tour of Sri Lanka, featuring in 19 ODIs and six T20Is as well as two Tests on this tour. Jasprit Bumrah too has played 20 ODIs since that Lanka tour, along with eight T20Is and his workload has only increased given that he played through the Test series here as well. Some rest will do both of them some good especially ahead of the next contest.
Bench strength of pacers
Alternately, India’s second line of pace attack needs some attention. Since that Sri Lanka tour, the Men in Blue have played 20 ODIs and the Kumar-Bumrah duo has not featured together in only one of them – at Bengaluru against Australia.
One way to look at this is the splendid job they have done as the foremost new-ball pairing in limited-overs’ cricket. The other way, of course, is that India is too dependent on them and should look to build back-up options, given that they have one eye on the 2019 World Cup.
Mohammed Shami has only played three ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. Ever since he returned from injury, he has featured twice against West Indies (2017) and then once against Australia.
Shardul Thakur, the fourth pacer in this current squad, has only ever played in two ODIs. It suffices to say that India currently do not have a reliable second-choice pace attack and despite the success of Kumar-Bumrah combination, this aspect needs urgent attention. The middle-order continues to be another area of focus.
Middle order a concern
There has only been one half-century contributed from nos. 4-7 in this series. After Ajinkya Rahane’s sterling effort in Durban, only MS Dhoni came close at the Wanderers when he got to an unbeaten 42 off 43 balls.
Shreyas Iyer has got starts in both the matches he has played but failed to capitalise. Rahane too has fizzled out since his comeback at no 4. Hardik Pandya has scored 26 runs in four innings in this ODI series. The slow nature of pitches is one of the reasons being attributed to this downturn.
With the top-order doing well and essentially eating out 30-35 overs in every game, the middle-order has been forced to bat in high gear most of the time. It also needs to be mentioned that South Africa’s death bowling is seen to be their only high point of the series so far.
Either way, the Indian think-tank needs to pay more attention to their middle-order woes. Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik are in the squad yet it is tough to see both of them get a game.
The Indian team opted not to train on Thursday, taking a pre-match day off on what has been a long and hectic tour. South Africa, on the other hand, would want to finish this ODI series on a high and take fresh guard for the T20I series, which gets underway on February 18.
A clutch of their first-choice bowlers have been rested ahead of the Australia series, and it is the last bow for the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi against India on this trip. They will be keen to make an impression.
It remains to be seen if the Supersport Park pitch plays any different from how it did in the previous game, which India won by nine wickets in rampant fashion.
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.