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Dhoni in focus as India seeks winning start

Fortified by inclusion of Steyn and Morkel, South Africa determined to build on T20I series triumph

Dhoni in focus as India seeks winning start - Cricket News
“Graaaahhh!” Dale Steyn hollered a couple of times during practice at Kanpur’s Green Park Stadium on Saturday (October 10) morning. It was in anger, directed at himself, for something as simple as missing the stump with his throw during a fielding drill. Adrenaline, evidently, coursed through his bulging veins. A few yards away, the calmer, but equally determined figure of Morne Morkel, fine-tuned his line and length, attempting everything from the short ball to the yorker.
 
Having eased to a 2-0 win the Twenty20 Internationals, South Africa may not seem to need more firepower, but the addition of Steyn and Morkel adds significant strength to the contingent ahead of the first One-Day International of a five-match series on Sunday. That said, the visitor, an exceptional side which knows the art of winning on the road, is all set to face a different set of problems against India, in a format in which the home side is usually in its element.
 
There is constant pressure to score, and score big, in T20Is, which contributed to the Indian batsmen folding for 92 in Cuttack. The ODIs will provide something of a relief. Most batsmen prefer settling down and getting a measure of what they are up against before playing their shots, and the Indian batsmen have generally thrived in those situations. To that end, the Green Park pitch should help, given it usually has some runs in it. In the last ODI played at this venue, against West Indies in late 2013, Shikhar Dhawan scored a typically flamboyant century. Salman Butt got one too when Pakistan visited in 2007, but it was Shahid Afridi’s 46-ball 102, in 2005, that really set the place alight.


 
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, will be hoping to do something similar this time around. There’s been talk of his decline in form, and some quarters have even questioned the former Test captain’s place in the side. At the root of that, seemingly, is his decision to promote himself up the order. For long has Dhoni played at No. 6, handling all the pressure to score from ball one that comes with the slot. Recently, however, he has spoken of his desire to play at No. 4, and he featured in that slot in the last two ODIs in Bangladesh, scoring a sedate 47 and then a counter-punching 69. 

There were signs there that Dhoni’s move might work well, but that was quickly forgotten as he struggled in the T20Is, scoring an unbeaten 20 and a 5. He will hope to silence the doubters against one of the best attacks in the world and a side ranked just a place below second-placed India in the ODI rankings. 
 
Dhoni averages 68.40 in 20 outings at No. 4, and given that he’s all set to continue in that slot, it is the vacancy below that comes into focus. Ajinkya Rahane is effectively ruled out of the No. 6 spot, given he isn’t seen as a lower-order belter. And though Gurkeerat Singh Mann, the allrounder, has been touted as one capable of plenty in the future, Dhoni confirmed he wasn’t in the scheme of things for the first ODI.
 
But while admitting a decision on the XI would be based on condition of the pitch on the morning, the captain didn’t entirely rule out the possibility of playing a three-pronged spin attack, meaning a potential ODI return for Amit Mishra, who last played in the format against West Indies in October 2014.
 
For all that, though, South Africa poses a very stern challenge. With the addition of Steyn and Morkel, there is considerable influx of value, something AB de Villiers, the captain, made a point of mentioning.
 
He also spoke of making the momentum count. “It’s a great start to what promises to be a very challenging tour for us,” he said on the eve of the match. “I don’t think a lot of people expected us to be 2-0 up in the T20I series. We would love to do a similar kind of thing in the ODIs. It is not going to be easy playing India, with lots of travelling and lot of different wickets and different grounds. It is going to be challenging, but we have got very important momentum on our side and we are hoping to take that into tomorrow. We want to win this series.” 
 
If De Villiers is to have his wish, South Africa will have to create history – it is yet to win a bilateral ODI series in India whch, at the moment, lies wounded, seeking its first win of the tour. For all the talk of momentum, a win here could reverse it completely.
 
A good start is, therefore, vital. For both teams. 
 
Teams (from):
 
India: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, R Ashwin, Axar Patel, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav.
 
South Africa: AB de Villiers (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Khaya Zondo, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.

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