Crippled India seek to square up Proteas
India go into the fourth ODI with their fragile batting further lamed by Dravid's absence.
Battered and bruised by two humiliating defeats, India go into the fourth cricket one-dayer against South Africa on Wednesday with their fragile batting further crippled by the absence of captain and lynchpin Rahul Dravid.
The injury to Dravid, who has suffered the fracture on his right middle finger, could not have come at the worse time for the beleaguered Indians, who are under immense pressure to improve their performance.
Dravid's unavailability has put Virender Sehwag in charge of the team but the opener himself is going through a prolonged lean patch.
Trailing the five match series 0-2, the visitors need a far more inspiring performance with a collective firing from their key batsmen to be able to turn the table against the fancied hosts.
After the first match was washed out by rains, Indian batsmen struggled against South African pace attack losing their last two matches by huge margins of more than 100 runs.
Stylish batsman VVS Laxman, who was initially overlooked for the series, has been drafted in as a replacement for Dravid but it appears unlikely that he would be able to reach the venue in time.
The team appears worn out by the happenings on field in South Africa, as well as off-field issues igniting the passions in India. The players as well as coach Greg Chappell have reasons to feel under siege.
Stand-in captain Sehwag now has the dual responsibility of attending to his batting as well as motivating the players to stop the team from sliding one step closer to a complete whitewash in the series.
Sehwag himself missed the first two matches of the tour due to a finger injury and is struggling to find form after he was out for a duck in the third ODI on Sunday.
Sachin Tendulkar too could sense the heat around him as he is seen doing nothing to shore up the team's cause and another failure here would park the caravan of critics right in front of his door.
But the team is not missing out on moments to celebrate, as it was only on Monday when Suresh Raina's birthday was celebrated with vigour, although such moments on this tour have been few and far between.
Laxman's arrival in a way is a complete letdown for Chappell's philosophy of looking to find younger and fitter players to shape India's one-day line-up in years to come.
Chappell has always been a big advocate of encouraging at least two-dimensional cricketers in the team but the return of Zaheer Khan and Anil Kumble, and now Laxman, appears a vote of no-confidence against his fresh-legs theory by the selectors.
Indians have done the act of shifting horses in the midstream and it must be said that its world cup plans, as well as that of future beyond, at the moment are in complete disarray.
South Africa, on the other hand, have the luxury to try out new faces and they have gone ahead and done exactly so in this match by adding Ashwell Prince to the squad.
Prince replaces Boeta Dippenaar as the only change to the South African ODI squad for the remaining two matches against India.
The left-hander is not quite cut-out for one-day cricket but his powers of concentration of technique as well as fine running between the wickets would be an invaluable asset in the Caribbean next year.
Otherwise, the squad remains the same and the hosts feel no needs to alter it on a pitch which has the reputation of being the slowest in South Africa.
India: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag (capt), Mohammad Kaif, Dinesh Mongia, Dinesh Kaarthick, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel and Zaheer Khan
South Africa: Graeme Smith, Loots Bosman, Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Charles Langeveldt, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp and Ashwell Prince.
Umpires: Billy Doctrove (WI) and Ian Howell (RSA)
Third umpire: Brian Jerling (RSA)
Match referee: Chris Broad (Eng)
Hours of play (IST): 6.00 p.M till 9.30 p.M and 10.10 p.M. Till close of play.