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Time for India’s bowlers to make presence felt

Batting paradise in Indore will further test resolve of an attack that will sorely miss Ashwin’s expertise

Time for India’s bowlers to make presence felt - Cricket News
India's bowling may be weakened if Ashwin continues to miss out.

The authorities at the Holkar Cricket Stadium opened a couple of the stands for the public on Tuesday (October 13), the eve of the second One-Day International between India and South Africa, and the atmosphere resembled that of a match day.

The fans seemed so starved of live cricket that they cheered absolutely anything the players did. And the players, they lapped it up. “Oye Kohli, idhar dekhna!,” a stray voice yelled. Virat Kohli raised a hand in the general direction, like the conductor of an orchestra, and the noise level went through the roof.

It seemed like the perfect balm the Indian contingent needed after the five-run loss in the first ODI in Kanpur. India fought till the very end in a mammoth chase of 304, but had nothing to show for its efforts.

Such a loss can be quite demoralising, especially given that it came on the back of a 0-2 loss in the Twenty20 Internationals series. But in a possible bid to rejuvenate its mind, India had a particularly long session of football, ahead of nets.

While the session would have taken their thoughts off the serious stuff and eased their minds, the players will be aware that they have issues to address if they are to stop South Africa from taking a significant step towards another series win on Wednesday. Foremost among them is death bowling. In Kanpur, India was admittedly hamstrung by the side strain to R Ashwin, but even taking that into account, 86 runs in the last six overs were too many.

AB de Villiers had a field day and his ball-striking seemed to rattle the bowlers, who kept bowling too short or too wide. In contrast, South Africa made runs hard to get in the death – India’s chase unravelled in the 47th over when Imran Tahir claimed two wickets, before Kagiso Rabada’s final over, which yielded just five runs and brought two wickets, sealed the deal.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni later admitted it was a concern, and that the bowlers should have executed their deliveries better, but it must worry the management that the problem, an old one, has not gone away.

India will also need to find its best batting combination. Ajinkya Rahane’s place in the playing XI seemed to be under threat ahead of Kanpur, but he was included, coming in at No. 3, and fared well scoring an 82-ball 60 in a 149-run stand for the second wicket with Rohit Sharma, who went on to score a stunning 150. However, the downside of the move was that Kohli, who dropped one place to No. 4, struggled to get going, walking in at a time when India needed to accelerate, and managed only a 18-ball 11. Dhoni later said the drying up of runs at the period was costly.

In fact, Kohli’s form in ODIs has dwindled considerably since his 107 against Pakistan during the World Cup in February. In 11 matches since, he hasn’t managed a half-century, and his highest score, an unbeaten 44, came against Ireland a month later in Hamilton. He has been fine in Tests, but lack of ODIs will nag him.  

The Indore track might be perfect for him to return to form. The ground has a history of runs – in the last ODI here, in 2011, Virender Sehwag scored a famous 219 against West Indies as India totalled 418 – and this is expected to be another high-scoring match. The batsmen will need to make it count, given that the bowling will be significantly weakened if Ashwin continues to miss out. He didn’t take any part in training even as Harbhajan Singh, who was included in the squad as cover, went hard at the nets.

As far as South Africa is concerned, its bowlers won’t be too bothered about the pitch, despite Charl Langeveldt, the bowling coach, saying he expected a tough time for his wards on a batting-friendly pitch. At the nets, the South African pacemen carried on practicing what they have been – Morne Morkel tuning his back-of- length deliveries and Kyle Abbott working on yorkers. Shaun Pollock, the former captain, had a bowl at nets as well and then had long conversations with Morkel, Abbott and Rabada.

South Africa is in good spirit. The team’s current concerns mostly revolve around the form of David Miller, who has been going through an extended poor patch. Since the World Cup, his highest score in ODIs is 44 against Bangladesh in Chittagong. In the three subsequent matches against New Zealand, he managed a high score of 36, while in Kanpur, he made 13.

However, Langeveldt said Miller’s form was only a matter of one good knock. “David, at the moment, he’s struggling with his form, but he’s got the backing of the management,” he said. “I think the players in the team rally around him. If he plays just one good knock, he’ll be okay.”

Apart from Miller, Faf du Plessis’s fitness will also be scrutinised. He left the field during India’s chase in Kanpur after twisting his knee. It was said to be a precautionary move, but Langeveldt confirmed he would have scans after practice – during which he walked around comfortably enough, but he didn’t exert himself too much – and a call would be taken on the morning of the match. 

South Africa is yet to win an ODI series in India. The closest it came was in 2005, when a five-match series was drawn 2-2. Given India’s issues with death bowling, and the batting track both teams expect, the likes of de Villiers will be confident of another good score, and a win here will take it that much closer to history.

India knows it can’t afford another slip-up.

Teams (from):

India: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Axar Patel, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Harbhajan Singh, R Ashwin.

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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