South Africa playing for pride in dead rubber

    Jangatha / Centurian / (Navdeep Singh) There’s more life to this dead rubber than may appear given both India and South Africa laid foundation stones to Mission 2019 ahead of the series. By virtue of the result alone, the visitors will find themselves slightly ahead of the curve in terms of preparation for World Cup. By claiming the ODI series and by leap-frogging their hosts to the top of the ODI pile, their South African tour has turned around since Virat Kohli asked his team to be obsessively “mad” about winning away from home after they squandered their unbeaten Test series run at this very venue in mid-January. Their only off-field concern entering the sixth and final ODI is a possible hangover from the breakthrough success – and the celebrations.

    As far as bigger pictures go, it shouldn’t take much for India to refocus. They still have issues to address, most notably with the middle-order. While a game like this may not provide instant solutions, it could at least offer a sense of direction. For all the run-guzzling feats of the top-three, the middle order of Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya has struggled to maintain the pace, let alone force it, in the final 20 overs of the ODI game. In times of doubling the total after 30 overs, India have managed 103/5 and 116/6 and 133/3 in the last three games. This ought to cripple the team when they move to truer batting conditions. On those surfaces, India’s lack of a sixth bowling option – in the injury absence of Kedar Jadhav – could also prove to be a more gaping weakness.

    South Africa, meanwhile, have more causes for forehead creases with the series plonking giant question marks on their middle-order’s ability to play quality spin. The squad is injury-hit, disjointed, and out of form. They punted with a young captain in Aiden Markram with an eye on the future but may have inadvertently contributed to a swift decline in his batting form. Given the fragile state of the squad following the heavy defeats, a victory even in a dead rubber could revitalise the setup for the rest of the summer – and the forthcoming Australia series – as India’s win at the Wanderers Test did for them.

    When: South Africa vs India, 6th ODI, February 16, 13:00 Local, 16:30 IST

    Where: SuperSport Park, Centurion

    What to expect: Heavy rains lashed Johannesburg and Centurion on match eve. While India had anyway opted against practicing on match eve, South Africa had to pack up theirs within 10 minutes. There’s a forecast for scattered thunderstorms in Centurion on the day of the game but it is scheduled to hit early in the morning and later in the night and the cricket might just escape both. As far as the pitch is concerned, the SuperSport has hosted two games on this tour and both have not favoured the hosts one bit. While Curator Bryan Bloy’s ODI wicket offered more bounce than its Test counterpart, the ball still spun appreciably for Yuzvendra Chahal, who grabbed a fifer. But that was a day game. Under lights, there’s a possibility of the ball skidding on more and possibly negating India’s spin twins a little bit.

    Team News:


    Virat Kohli emphasised the need to push for an emphatic 5-1 result, but is likely to tweak his playing XI a bit. The team management have kept a close eye on the workloads of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, who have been playing since the Tests. It is likely that one, if not both, will be rested. India retracted their decision to view Ajinkya Rahane as a backup opener and slotted him in at No.4. He has an aggregate of 106 from four innings, with 79 off those coming in the first ODI doesn’t bode well for the team. However, to find a settled No.4 batsman with just over a year to go, India will have to resist the urge from tinkering personnel after every few games.

    Probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer/Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah/Shardul Thakur

    South Africa:

    The hosts will have one eye on the forthcoming series against Australia and that means some of the redlining fast bowlers, including Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel, will need to be given breathers. Incidentally, Morkel was to be rest at Port Elizabeth but Chris Morris’s untimely injury meant he had to play. The all-rounder has recovered from his back issue and should return to the playing XI for Friday’s encounter.

    Probable XI: Aiden Markram (c), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lungi Ngidi

    Did you know?

    – If India win the last ODI, it will be only the second instance of South Africa losing five ODIs in a home series. The only other time it happened was when they lost 1-5 with one tie against Australia in 2002.

    – Virat Kohli has won 37 of his 48 ODIs in charge as captain – the joint-most by any skipper at the same point of time. Clive Loyd, Hansie Cronje and Ricky Ponting also had 37 wins under their belt after 48 matches at the helm.

    – Post the 2015 World Cup, India’ top three has faced 61.41% of balls and scored 61.80% of runs – both the highest for any side in the same period.

    – Kuldeep Yadav needs three more wickets to become the highest wicket taker for India in a bilateral series. The current record is held by Javagal Srinath and Amit Mishra, both having taken 18 scalps each.

    What they said:

    “I don’t think in one-day cricket we’ve been in this position. Maybe 2008 in England when we didn’t have a good one-day series. There are always positives and learning to take from it. We’ve got a few younger guys in the team who will think, ‘Phew, one-day cricket is tough.’ But thankfully it will only get easier for them because we haven’t played our best cricket.” – Hashim Amla

    “Every team has a vision of the 2019 World Cup and that’s what we need to plan for, but for now 4-1 seems great and we’ll look to wrap it up well. We want to win 5-1 for sure, that doesn’t change, but there’ll be a chance for others to step in as well. The first priority is to win and we’ll do anything to do that again.” – Virat Kohli


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