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India hope for a revival

- Green pitch & an overcast sky cause for worry
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in Durban, on Saturday

Calcutta/Durban: Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership, India aren’t quite the poor travellers they used to be in the past, at least in the shorter format.

But the 141-run capitulation in the first of the three ODIs, at the Wanderers, again reflected that India are slow starters when playing abroad, irrespective of the format.

The only topic surfacing in South Africa at the moment is Nelson Mandela. Now, if the South Africans keep away from choking and follow up their clinical performance in the second one-dayer — at the Kingsmead — as well, it could go on to be their way of paying homage to their very own ‘Madiba’.

As for Dhoni and his troops, who are faced with a do-or-die situation, it’s important they buck up and improve, especially in the bowling department. India have been greeted by overcast conditions at the eastern coastal city, which has been experiencing rain for the past one week.

It is expected to stay so during Sunday too, with brief spells of rain. So a truncated match may happen.

Although there was talk that the Kingsmead pitch will be more to the Indians’ liking, gloomy conditions will surely have a bearing in some manner. But no matter how conditions are, India must look into their bowling, which was taken to the cleaners by the Quinton de Kocks and AB de Villiers the other day.

De Kock, De Villiers and J.P. Duminy just didn’t allow India’s bowlers to settle down, as they plundered runs almost at will in Johannesburg. Barring Mohammed Shami, who finished with a tad better figures, the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma were dispatched to all corners of the ground, getting their line and length completely wrong.

And when India began with their reply, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and the likes pointed out how to bowl on that kind of a surface.

Though it may not lead to any drastic change, but the Indian team management could consider the inclusion of Umesh Yadav, who’s the fastest of all (India) pacers and also has a fair bit of experience of playing overseas.

If the overcast conditions persist and the pitch turns out similar to the last game, Umesh could replace Bhuvneshwar in the playing XI. Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, too, have a role to play, which is providing good support to the quicks.

South Africa, on the other hand, may look at leg-spinner Imran Tahir for a place in the final XI. However, it remains to be seen whether they would want to disturb the combination that earned them such a fabulous win in the previous ODI or rest one of their pacers, keeping the two Test matches in mind.

The pitch is expected to aid the pacers. “The wicket looks pretty much like the outfield from a distance,” said Dale Steyn.

For India, they need to bat better as well. Their batsmen need to understand that in South African pitches, one just cannot go out and start playing his shots. It’s imperative the Shikhar Dhawans and Rohit Sharmas look to settle down first before going after the bowlers.

The fact that Rohit, who has been on a sizzling run with an ODI double-hundred, plus two Test hundreds on the trot, took 16 deliveries to get bat on ball against Steyn, reflects he’s not well apt in batting on fast wickets. It showed in Johannesburg.

Dhawan, too, needs to realise that he cannot just survive by simply trying to swivel whenever the ball is dug short. Trying to put away whatever short on offer is certainly a positive step. But to do that, you need to position yourself nicely instead of just trying to pull blindly.

Dhawan’s approach on Thursday only suggested that he is still in that frame of mind with which he batted on slow and flat surfaces since his Test debut in Mohali, earlier this year.

Another major disappointment was Yuvraj Singh. The man with vast experience, India do need the southpaw to come up with a meaningful contribution should they try and win this series from a do-or-die situation.

Also, it’s for Yuvraj’s own good that he gets some runs under his belt. Else, it won’t take much time for selectors to chuck him out.

Ahead of the first ODI, Dhoni had spoken about pressure on the team that loses in Johannesburg. He had said that there would not by any time to recover for the side that loses the opening match. Now, he and his players will be fighting for survival.

TEAMS

India (likely): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma/Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami

South Africa (likely): Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, J.P. Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe

Match starts: 1.30 pm (IST).