Wounded India look to get their act together

S Africa seek to maintain momentum

Wounded India look to get their act together
Two pieces of action stood out during India’s practice session on the eve of the Wednesday’s second one-day international against South Africa -- the pacemen practicing their yorkers and MS Dhoni throwing his bat virtually at everything that he faced on a hot Tuesday morning.

India’s death-bowling and Dhoni’s perceived inability to produce his vintage big hits have been a topic of hot discussion following India’s five-run defeat in the first ODI in Kanpur. And there appeared to be a conscious effort to set these two aspects right, with the pitch at the Holkar stadium expected to be a belter. The last time India played here – against the West Indies in 2011 – Virender Sehwag had blitzed his way to 219 in hosts’ total of 418.

As AB de Villiers went hammer and tongs towards the end of the South African innings in Kanpur, the Indian bowlers leaked 86 runs in the last six overs, helping the visitors post a 300-plus total. And as India appeared to be overhauling the big target on the back of Rohit Sharma’s swashbuckling 150, they fell agonisingly short by five runs. That Dhoni failed to take India home, with 11 needed off the final over, has added to the growing chorus about the limited-overs skipper’s inability to finish off games that he once did with stunning regularity.

The din around Dhoni has been so cacophonous that the failures of the likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Stuart Binny have gone unnoticed. Shikhar Dhawan, in fact, has just 37 runs from three innings (two T20Is and an ODI). And harsh as it may sound, Rohit, who anchored India’s spirited chase, should have seen the team home – a fact not lost on the opener himself who made a frank admission on Wednesday that he should have finished the game as a set batsman.

While there were several positives in batting despite a botched up chase, the conditions here pose similar tests to Indian bowlers. A flat pitch and short boundaries demand a much more disciplined effort from the pacers while the spinners, in the absence of an in-form R Ashwin, will have to control the game in the middle overs. One of India’s problems has been Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s inability to provide breakthroughs with the new ball that he used to be so adept at. Mohit is versatile but lacks consistency while Umesh Yadav, if picked, has to learn to exercise some control. Pace without direction is bound to end in disaster.

Harbhajan Singh is all set to be included in place of fellow off-spinner Ashwin, who bowled just four overs after sustaining a side strain in Kanpur. While leggie Amit Mishra will be the other spinner, it remains to be seen if India hand a debut to off-spinning all-rounder Gurkeerat Mann or give another chance to Binny. There can also be a toss-up between Harbhajan and Gurkeerat in case the think-tank decides to include Yadav in place of Binny as it makes sure they are not a batsman light.

Being the best travellers in international cricket, South Africa were expected to be a tough nut to crack but with the T20I series won and a 1-0 lead in ODIs, the visitors may have exceeded their own expectations. They are neither fretting over the fitness concerns of an in-form Faf du Plessis — who hurt his knee in Kanpur while fielding — nor are they worried about David Miller’s lean run. Hashim Amla and JP Duminy have been amongst runs while AB de Villiers has been nothing less than a nightmare for the Indian bowlers. Only Ashwin seemed to have some measure of him but with the Chennai bowler out, Dhoni will have real a headache in controlling the right-hander.

The South African bowling has held more than its own in admittedly tough conditions for bowlers. The extra pace that the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada possess has troubled the home batsmen while leg-spinner Imran Tahir has proven to be a smart customer. In the end, it may all boil down to how effectively the Indian batsmen neutralise this attack.

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