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Must-win India can’t afford another slip-up

Momentum with South Africa despite Duminy’s absence and uncertainty over Morkel’s availability

Must-win India can’t afford another slip-up - Cricket News
Harbhajan Singh celebrates a wicket with his teammates
The India-South Africa series has been one in which the crowds have constantly been in focus. While the Cuttack crowd made headlines for wrong reasons, the people in Indore made up for it with their innovative way of cheering - flashing torch-lights on their mobile phones in unison. The Rajkot crowd was also in focus ahead of the third One-Day International for potential protests, which fortunately didn't eventuate.

Against this backdrop, the sight of 12,000 empty seats at the MA Chidambaram Stadium for the fourth ODI on Thursday (October 22) will be a dampener for fans and players alike. Three stands have been closed off owing to an absence of environmental clearance from the local corporation.
 
The cricket, though, promises to be as intense as it has been since South Africa set foot on Indian soil.
 
The series, which South Africa leads 2-1, has lived up to its hype so far, with both teams punching alternately. All the matches so far have followed a similar pattern, with the chasing team losing from comfortable positions. 
 
At the end of it all, the host finds itself in a do-or-die situation while South Africa is one win away from its maiden bilateral ODI series win in India.
 
But if India was feeling the pressure, it didn't show in its training session on the eve of the game. The light-hearted, customary Team Dhoni v Team Kohli football game -- which Team Kohli seemed to win -- was followed by an intense net session where all batsmen, including Ambati Rayudu and Gurkeerat Singh Mann, had a bat. 
 
In a way, India finds itself in an unfamiliar position where its bowlers are doing a fair job while the batsmen are struggling a touch. Most of their batsmen have been among the runs: Rohit Sharma has a 150 and a 65, Ajinkya Rahane has two half-centuries, Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit a match-winning unbeaten 92 in Indore, and Virat Kohli showed glimpses of form with a half-century in Rajkot. 
 
But somehow, India has managed to botch two chases that it seemed to have in the bag. The big concern for India is a rather confused batting order. India seems undecided about the positions of Rahane, Kohli and Dhoni, and although Dhoni defended the constant shuffles by putting it down to giving every batsman the chance to experience batting lower down, the time for experiments is over.
 
Away from the batting order conundrum, India will also be worried about the number of dot balls it has played and the form of its two left-hand batsmen. There were 48 dot balls in the first 10 overs while Dhoni and Kohli played out 59 dot balls in their 80-run association in Rajkot. 
 
Shikhar Dhawan has managed just 59 runs in three matches, while Suresh Raina has only three, including two consecutive ducks. Raina, in particular, has been frustrating, throwing away his wicket at crucial junctures in both the lost chases without getting his eye in. Both batsmen had extended sessions in the nets and India will need them to fire as the series reaches its business end.
 
The first thing Dhoni did upon arriving at the ground was to have a look at the pitch, and catch up with the curator and the ground staff. The pitch is likely to assist spinners and India will fancy its chances with Amit Mishra, Axar Patel and Harbhajan Singh in good form. S Arvind has replaced Umesh Yadav in the only change in the squad for the last two ODIs, but India is unlikely to change the two-pacer combination of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma. In what could be a good sign for India for the Test series, R Ashwin, although not in the squad for the remaining ODIs, joined the team and bowled without trouble for more than an hour.
 
South Africa, on the other hand, has a different kind of problem to deal with. JP Duminy has been ruled out of the rest of the series with a hand injury while Morne Morkel suffered a sore leg while bowling in the previous match. Morkel underwent a fitness Test on Wednesday afternoon and although he sent down a few deliveries, the lanky bowler stayed away from the team's net session. South Africa will take a call on his fitness on the day of the match.
 
Duminy's injury in particular will hurt South Africa as he also doubled up as an offspinner, giving it flexibility and the choice of playing an extra batsman. Now, the visitor is likely to change its combination of seven batsmen, three seamers and a lone spinner in Imran Tahir. Dean Elgar, Duminy's replacement, arrived at 3 am on Wednesday and since he has little preparation time, South Africa could go in with either Aaron Phangiso or Chris Morris.
 
Either move will weaken the batting a touch, but South Africa shouldn't worry much given its batsmen’s recent form. AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock have a century each while Faf du Plessis, who knows a thing or two about the Chennai pitch, has been the most consistent batsman with three half-centuries. Hashim Amla and David Miller, though, have struggled to get going. Miller opened with de Kock in the previous game but could go down the order again to strengthen the middle order in Duminy's absence.  
 
Unlike the Indians, South Africa's bowling attack is driven by pace. And a lot of it. That Dale Steyn has been the least threatening pacer – if only by a small margin – tells a tale in itself. Kagiso Rabada, the youngster, and Morkel have already played their parts in victories and Tahir too has chipped in. 
 
Chennai's heat - yes, it is hot even in October - will be a factor, but the visitor has already shown its ability to acclimatise to different conditions.
 
Not often does a visiting team start as favourite in a game in India. South Africa, on the verge of making history, finds itself in that exalted position. Doubts over Dhoni's place in the team were quelled in Indore, but a loss in either of the remaining games could reopen debates about his captaincy.  
 
Teams (from):
 
South Africa: David Miller, Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt), Farhaan Behardien, Khaya Zondo, Chris Morris, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Aaron Phangiso, Dean Elgar
 
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Suresh Raina, Axar Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Mohit Sharma, S Arvind, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Stuart Binny, Ambati Rayudu.

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