Cuttack: Handed a defeat in the first Twenty20 International, a determined India will look to plug the loopholes in bowling and bounce back in a must-win second T20 of the three-match series against South Africa here tomorrow.
It’s an unfamiliar situation for India to start a home series on a losing note, and the manner of the defeat in Dharamsala would put the hosts under tremendous pressure, especially the bowlers.
Back after a break of three months, the onus would be on limited overs skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to bring the team out of the rut and ensure India get back to winning ways.
Unlike Dharamsala, the conditions are expected to be ideal for Dhoni’s men here and the third T20 in Kolkata as the surface is likely to be low and slow in nature with rains and thundershowers in past few days.
The stadium was under a pool of water after rain and thundershowers in the afternoon when the team landed in State capital Bhubaneswar.
Going into tomorrow’s match, there would be concern over the ground conditions. The Met department has also forecast a few spells of rain in the next 48 hours and possibility of a curtailed match cannot be ruled out.
In the series opener, Rohit Sharma’s maiden T20I century in an entertaining stroke-play along with Virat Kohli’s 43 meant India could not have asked for more from their batsmen who posted their highest score of 199 against the South Africans.
But even their best was not sufficient as the bowling came a cropper, barring the four overs of Ravichandran Ashwin.
Chasing a target of 200-odd runs, Hashim Amla (36) and AB de Villiers (51) laid the solid foundation before JP Duminy (68) and Farhaan Behardien (32) in an unbroken partnership of 105 saw the South Africans through with two balls to spare.
Duminy virtually won the battle in the 16th over when he smashed three successive sixes off Axar Patel’s bowling, snatching 22 runs in that over.
It’s no secret that Dhoni prefers Axar Patel over Amit Mishra for the left-arm spinner’s hard-hitting capabilities lower down the order.
But legspinner Mishra who’s on a high after his 15 wickets from three matches in Sri Lanka, Dhoni may have a cutting edge in the slow conditions here. Mishra and Ashwin bowling in tandem may sound a good option.
Ashwin was deceptively brilliant and got vicious turn as he looked dangerous. The offspinner also showed great control with de Villiers in full swing after completing his fifty.
Quick to notice that de Villiers was charging down the track, Ashwin cleverly bowled a slower one and the South African missed the line completely.
Post-de Villiers, the strategy shown by the match winning pair of Duminy and Behardien was to see Ashwin through and unleash against the rookie left-arm spinner Patel, something that worked for the visitors.
In de Villiers, South Africa has one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world and somebody who pushes any bowler into a panic-stricken mode with his 360-degree hitting range. His penchant for moving around the crease can unsettle any bowler and the key would be to bowl smart and with accuracy, like finding yorkers.
But the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sreenath Aravind, who made his debut at Dharamsala, struggled to find the toe-crushing yorkers, a big weapon in T20 scheme of things.
After Patel’s poor 16th over, Bhuvneshwar conceded a six and a four in the first two balls of the penultimate over, giving the poor Aravind the improbable task of defending 10 runs in the last over.
Cut to India’s batting, and one would rue the poor finishing especially after Sharma and Kohli’s launchpad.
India were racing towards a total of around 220 with Sharma and Kohli’s 138 partnership in 72 balls for the third wicket when the duo fell in space of two runs to Kyle Abott and South Africa managed to keep the hosts under 200.
Thereafter, India scored 41 runs in last five overs and Dhoni’s slide in strike rate over a period of time will be a cause of concern.
While in bowling, Mishra looks a better bet than Patel, in batting, Ajinkya Rahane, who has been impressive at any batting position, may be a better proposition than Dhoni’s preferred choice of Ambati Rayudu, who was run out for zero in the last match.
But it remains to be seen whether Dhoni sticks to his preferred combination or experiments with the playing XI.
In bigger picture ahead of the World Twenty20 in India next year, the match in Dharamsala can be a reality check for the hosts who have not played much T20Is in recent past — four compared to South Africa’s 11 post World T20 in Bangladesh last year.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (c/wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Amabati Rayudu, Axar Patel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sreenath Aravind, Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny, Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abott, Marchant de Lange, Imran Tahir, Quninto de Kock, Eddie Leie, Albie Morkel and Kyaya Zondo.