India will be under considerable pressure when they take the field for the first One-Day International (ODI) cricket match here on Sunday after meekly losing the Twenty20 series against SOuth Africa. The focus will primarily be on Mahendra Singh Dhoni whose captaincy skills and motivation to lead the team has been questioned following the T20I loss. His task will not be made any easier by a strong South Africa team in the five-match ODI series, who are bubbling with confidence after winning the 20-over series. The visitors are also breathing down India’s neck in the ODI rankings, being just five points behind.
The rising clamour for Dhoni to be replaced by Test skipper Virat Kohli will reach a crescendo if India faces another reverse in results, following the ODI series loss in Bangladesh in June. Some believed it as a one-off thing, but after a long gap of three months, little improvement was on display against the Proteas. India’s apparently strong batting line up has not been consistent, just as in Bangladesh.
In the first match in Dharamsala, Rohit’s Sharma’s maiden century took them to 199 with some help from Virat Kohli. But in Cuttack, they were bowled out for a paltry 92. To be fair to Dhoni, all the preferred ‘big gun’ batsmen — Kohli, Suresh Raina and Shikhar Dhawan — failed to fire and the Ranchi-born wicket-keeper batsman’s own form also dipped. But the team management has exercised its vocal chords to keep faith in the misfiring big shots. India have a well-balanced side and there is no need to press the panic button. They will learn from their mistakes and will bounce back, is the common refrain by the team management when questions are raised about their worth. India’s batting line-up will be up for scrutiny and it will be interesting to see if any rejig in the lineup is done by the think-tank. Mumbai middle-order batsman Ajinkya Rahane will return to the ODI team after he was overlooked in favour of Ambati Rayudu in the shortest format. Their task will be stiffer as South Africa’s leading pace pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will return after resting out the 20-over series. There is also a school of thought which believes that Dhoni’s days as a “finisher” are over and he should be promoted up the order. The 34-year-old, who quit Test cricket last year, looked out of touch, scoring 20 not out and five in the T20I series. Batting all-rounder Gurkeerat Singh Mann could also be given an opportunity after impressive performances for India A. Pacer Umesh Yadav’s return will also provide some teeth to the pace attack, which looked listless in the T20I series. Tamil Nadu off-Spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is expected to be India’s leading wicket-taker but needs assistance from leggie Amit Mishra.
Predicted playing XI:
India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Axar Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
South Africa: AB De Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf Du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott.