The fouth ODI between India and South Africa will be played in Chennai on Thursday. The series is at stake, and much to everyone’s dissatisfaction India are playing like an away team. The visitors have adapted well to the heat, dew, pitches and hold the vantage position with a 2-1 series lead.
India have everything to play for --- ranking, pride, home advantage and morale all under threat. The repercussions can also spill into the Test series.
It was course correction at play on Wednesday at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Suresh Raina’s wretched time with the bat has left a gaping hole in the middle-order. Raina perhaps had the longest batting stint in the nets as he looked to shake off the rust. Unstable against spinners and fast bowlers alike, he strove hard to check himself from hitting in the air as he has done against rising deliveries and play with control, which he has not, against Imran Tahir’s googlies. Raina knows, like his stint in the nets, he needs to stay longer at the wicket. His captain has tagged him as impetuous in shot-making, and Raina has to prove himself to Dhoni and others.
In the top of the order, while Rohit Sharma is firing away, his partner is throwing it away. Shikhar Dhawan is getting a start every time, but he is paying for his follies. While Dhawan was trying to perfect his shot selection, Sharma sharpened his batting against the spinners.
He chose to practice alone inside the ground. Unusually for Sharma, he is getting out to spinners— Tahir in Kanpur and Duminy in Rajkot— in the middle of flowing knocks. Slightly cross with the facility at the nets, Sharma chose the pitch adjacent to the centre wicket to face an off-spinner, leg spinner and a left-arm spinner in fielding coach R Sridhar. He played shots to all parts of the ground, intermittently checking his shots after coming half way down the pitch.
Individual improvements aside, the team as a whole has a lot to do. Death overs performance, the team’s biggest worry, was addressed reasonably well by bowlers in Rajkot. Now, the batsmen have a job on hand to revisit their approach from the 35th over onwards. The last three matches seem to have provided useful data as the thinking has changed to picking singles over scoring boundaries.
“We looked to hit a lot of boundaries, we need to rotate the strike a lot in between in those overs; the odd boundaries will come. Looking to just hit boundaries, we are missing out a lot on singles—that is what was discussed. We have to be a little smarter than we have been in last three games,” said Harbhajan Singh. The experiment of trying out different batsmen at different positions just for the sake of it must also stop as it can prove costly with the series on the line.
If the focus is on finding clarity in approach, then batting positions must be addressed first. Ajinkya Rahane’s position has also been discussed at another level, with selection committee chairman Sandeep Patil having a word with the team management.
“We won a brilliant game in Indore; in the previous game, we didn’t play as well. Things will change, hopefully from tomorrow,” said Harbhajan.