Daunting task for Indians

Daunting task for Indians

It may sound a tad bizarre, but India find themselves in a very familiar position going into the second one-dayer at Durban.

They perforce need to win at the Kingsmead on Sunday to prevent South Africa from winning the series, and not so long ago they were in that position against both Australia and the West Indies.

India needed to win the last two games against the Aussies at Nagpur and Bangalore and the final ODI against the Caribbean outfit at Kanpur to protect their fine record in home one-dayers, and they accomplished that job in some style, scripting commanding victories to win both the series.

But here India no longer have the comfort of playing in home conditions, and in fact, a major portion of this team led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn’t even have the experience of playing in South Africa. Of course, some of them have played an ‘A’ series a couple of months back prior to this tour, but nothing can quite prepare you to face the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel on lively pitches.

It’s a task batsman need to tackle on his feet, relying as much on his technique as on his gumption. It’s time the Indian batsmen show that spunk before the home side runs away with the series. Everyone except Dhoni and Virat Kohli looked uncomfortable against Steyn & Co in the first one-dayer at Johannesburg, but the outings of Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh will come under harsher scrutiny if they fail in the second one-dayer as well.

With the Indian think tank looking to seal batting spots before the 2015 World Cup, a little over a year away, it’s imperative for these two to press their case with some fine shows. The mandarins may not wait longer – as it has been the case in the past – for their form to take a natural turnaround as they may give opportunities to some others waiting in the wings. India have Ambati Rayudu, who made a fifty on his debut against Zimbabwe, and Ajinkya Rahane in their side to fall back upon.

But that dreaded, icy tap on the shoulder from the selectors might come even quicker for Yuvraj if he fails on the morrow. Since his return to India fold last month, all Yuvraj could manage was two fifties – against Australia in a T20 at Rajkot and against the West Indies at Kanpur. Both were match-winning knocks alright, but in between those two innings the left-hander has played seven one-dayers without really contributing anything meaningful, even as a bowler.

On the contrary, Raina has been shuttling between number 4 and five slots recently. The team management has pitchforked him to bat at two down, an experimental move to find a permanent figure there. But the Uttar Pradesh left-hander has not delivered as desired, prompting the think tank to push him down to the more familiar number five. So, both Yuvraj and Raina are back to the old places, and now it’s up to them to deliver before it’s too late.

Certainly, there’s a lot of spotlight on the batsmen, but that can’t absolve bowlers of their well sub-par effort in the first one-dayer. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma might have impressed in the sub-continent with their ability to procure swing early on, but their lack of pace has come as a serious handicap in South Africa, evidenced from the way hosts’ batsmen handled them in the Wanderers. Mohammad Shami has been impressive in patches, but he will have to be far more consistent to shackle the SA batsmen. But a shift to Durban might just what the Indians needed at this moment, and the local word goes that the pitch here may be more of a sub-continental nature.

But even on a slightly blunt surface, Steyn and his colleagues could be quite a handful because of their extra pace. The pitch here had a greenish tinge a day before the match, and dark clouds were hovering over the stadium – ominous signs for Indians?

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