Wednesday, November 21, 2018 09:08:42 PM
High on confidence after levelling the series, a resurgent India will look to capitalise on their return to winning ways when they take on the formidable South Africa in the crucial third ODI cricket match in Rajkot on Sunday.
The splendid 22-run victory in Indore on October 14 was a shot-in-the-arm for not only the team but also under-fire captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after they lost the series opener at Green Park.
The Ranchi star, whose very place in the eleven has been questioned by some former cricketers, answered his critics with match-winning 92 not out, his 16th fifty as captain, which pulled the squad out of a rut and placed it with a fighting total in hand.
Dhoni's pyrotechnics, by rolling back the years to be at his pristine best, was backed up by some excellent spin bowling by Axar Patel and Harbhajan Singh, who was drafted into the squad as cover for the injured Ravichandran Ashwin.
The confidence of the Indians would have been uplifted by this come-from-behind victory after they were struggling at 124 for 6 around the 30-over mark before posting a challenging score of 247, thanks in the main to Dhoni's blazing 86-ball knock that contained 4 sixes and 7 fours.
Dhoni not only shone with the bat in his inimitable style but also utilised his bowlers well as his preferred ODI line-up in home conditions appears to be a left-arm spinner and off-spinner at the cost of leg spinner Amit Mishra who had bowled well in India's 5-run loss in the first match, but was omitted for the second game of the series.
The victory in Indore helped India halt South Africa's three-match winning run on their tour, the visitors' other two victories having come in the best-of-three T20 series held prior to the ODI contest.
However, Dhoni and his men would be wary of dropping their guard against this strong South Africa side in Sunday's game which is crucial as the winners would hold a distinct psychological edge ahead of the penultimate game four in Chennai on October 22.
While Dhoni's return to his clinically finishing best is a big plus for the team, the lack of runs from the blade of his successor as Test captain, Virat Kohli, as also of two other key members - Suresh Raina and Shikhar Dhawan - could be a bit worrying for the hosts.
Kohli, Raina and Dhawan are capable run-getters who would relish batting on a track which had been a batsman's paradise in the two international games played there so far the inaugural 50-over game against England in January, 2013, followed by the T20 match against Australia later that year.
Both these matches were tall-scoring ones with India losing the 50-over contest and then winning the shorter one.
The visitors, too, have plenty on their plate to look into after their loss in chasing a modest total in game two.
One of the priorities they need to address is tackling spin bowling effectively.
While captain AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis have delivered well in the top-order, the same has not been the case with two other important members of the batting line-up Hashim Amla and David Miller.
The getting into the groove of Amla is essential for South Africa with his ability to counter the spin bowling and play the sheet-anchor role for the other stroke makers to flourish around him.
In bowling, the effectiveness of the tourists' pace battery led by Dale Steyn has been nullified to a large extent by the Indian tracks.
But Steyn's extra speed and the steep bounce capable of being extracted by colleague Morne Morkel, along with the raw pace of the young Kagiso Rabada cannot be discounted even on shirtfront tracks.
They have adequate spin support from Imran Tahir and Jean-Paul Duminy to slow down the pace if they pacers go for too many runs at the Khandheri Stadium on what is expected to be a belter of a track against the likes of destructive and in-form batsmen like Rohit Sharma and Dhoni.
Rohit averages just over 70 at home in ODIs, as compared to 32-plus overseas, and should be looking forward to get back to the sort of touch that fetched him a belligerent 133-ball 150, albeit for a losing cause, at Kanpur.
Ajinkya Rahane too, following back-to-back fifties, would be longing to continue the good work while the track also offers a good platform for Kohli, Dhawan and Raina to strike it rich.
The pitch curator at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Rasik Makwana, has said ahead of the game that the track would offer a lot of runs and the dew factor would be minimal at this time of the year and in the sort of dry conditions that's prevailing here now.
One major worrying factor for the organisers is the threat of disruption issued by Hardik Patel's Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) who have stated their plan to use the game as a platform for their ongoing agitation for reservation.
Patel on Friday threatened to block the way of the two teams to the stadium with their community members blocking off the venue as tickets were allegedly not sold to his community members.
"SCA should clarify why they declared that all tickets are sold in spite of the fact that many tickets remain unsold," Patel had said in a media statement.
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