PORT ELIZABETH: After being knocked back in the fourth match, India look to smother a South African revival before it becomes a threat to their pursuit of a rare One-day International series triumph when the two sides meet here at St George’s Park on Tuesday.
Virat Kohli’s men still have a two-match cushion in the six-game series. The Proteas bounced back by winning the rain-affected pink ODI in Johannesburg by five wickets.
India’s wrist-spinners versus South Africa’s batting line-up is still the key contest going ahead in this series. At Johannesburg, the dual rain intervention affected India’s momentum with the bat and ball. Importantly, it reduced the target sufficiently that, despite A.B. de Villiers’ relative early dismissal, the Protea batsmen were hardly ruffled while getting over the line.
The T20-mode of that second innings, coupled with playing in the best batting surface of the series, allowed David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen to attack Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. The Yadav-Chahal axis was brilliant in each of India’s wins in the series so far.
A dropped catch and dismissing Miller off a no ball didn’t help India’s cause either. Yet, a rain-truncated innings is hardly enough evidence that South Africa have learnt how to combat the spin menace.
Additionally, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah were not used to great effect as Kohli chose to rely on the spinners, even when they were unable to respond to the hosts’ concentrated attack.
In this light, India’s team selection will come into focus in Port Elizabeth. There are still question marks about the fitness of Kedar Jadhav, who suffered a hamstring injury in Cape Town and missed the previous game.
Albeit a part-timer, in his absence, India lose a reliable bowling alternative, particularly if Hardik Pandya takes some stick and cannot complete his quota of overs. Jadhav is adept at bowling slow spin, and mixing it up well with Chahal and Yadav. India do not have many fall-back options in Jadhav’s absence.
It remains to be seen what bowling combination the hosts will go in with. On a hard and bouncy Wanderers’ wicket, they had dropped a full-time spinner altogether, relying solely on J.P. Duminy to do that job. St George’s Park has a history of aiding spinners and in the last two ODI, the spinners have been in prominence.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018