India look for a turnaround

Cricket ODI series : Skipper Dhoni under pressure as his men eye a good start against S Africa

India look for a turnaround

 It is hard to find India on a sticky wicket on home turf. But South Africa’s Twenty20 series win has stirred up a hornets’ nest of doubts and questions for them. With the One-day International series beginning at the Green Park Stadium on Sunday, India would be eager to lift the gloom and assert their newly achieved World No 2 ranking in the five-match series.

The backlash of India’s defeat has been extended to its limited overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni as well, with critics questioning his place in the team following his poor run of form and uninspiring captaincy. His niche role of a finisher, performed to perfection in the past, too has taken a beating in recent outings.

The pitch has already been raised to give the reins of limited overs to Test captain Virat Kohli. While such scrutiny is not new to most star cricketers, Dhoni, who retired from Tests last year, would quickly need to get his act together.

The fact that India lost the last ODI series to Bangladesh before this Twenty20 series loss to Proteas, threatens to dent the charisma that has surrounded Dhoni over the years. He bid farewell to Test cricket only to add more seasons to his ODIs and T20 careers.

The 34-year-old's record in the ODIS, where he has amassed 8,620 runs in 265 matches along with 246 catches and 85 stumpings, has been stellar. And if there is one format where he can get his mojo back, it is the 50-over version.

What has troubled India in two T20Is is the batting, especially the middle-order. The decision to drop Ajinkya Rahane for Ambati Rayudu has been bewildering.

Rayudu did little to justify the faith reposed in him by the captain by getting out on duck both times. Dhoni, however, believes Rahane is slow in rotating the strike on subcontinent pitches and better suited in the top-order, which is already occupied by Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Kohli. Suresh Raina’s batting position too has been tinkered with as Dhoni promoted himself up the order.

In bowling, Bhuvneshwar Kumar wasn’t too impressive leading the attack in Twenty20s. The return of Umesh Yadav would be a boost to India with Mohit Sharma and Stuart Binny being the other options in hand for Dhoni.

However, if spin was expected to be the theme of the series, it is yet to be seen. While Ravichandran Ashwin has undeniably performed as India’s top spinner, others have been found wanting.

Axar Patel has repeatedly gone for runs and Harbhajan Singh, who bowled a fine spell in Cuttack, is not the part of the ODI side. It leaves Dhoni with leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who could be a good spinning option on a track that is known to assist spinners. It was, therefore, surprising to see grass on pitch but Dhoni said it was to keep the “wicket intact”. He also didn’t deny the possibility of fielding three spinners in the only day match of the ODI series.

South Africa, however, have been unhurt by spin so far. Their batsmen have responded to the Indian conditions with flair and confidence and have not backed out from applying themselves. Their bowling has fared better than India and it would be spurred by the return of their premier pacers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who would be appearing in his 100th ODI.

The two, bowling in tandem after a gap, would pose the biggest threat for the Indians in this series.

Without doubt, South Africa have got the momentum going in the long, intense series. The key, for them, would be to maintain this rhythm; for India it would be to get into one swiftly.

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