Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni will face one of the trickiest tests of his international career as he frets on a perfect batting combination when India take on South Africa in a must-win fourth cricket ODI in Chennai on Thursday.
Down 1-2 and a bunch of batsmen not showing enough flexibility at different numbers, it has become a tough task for skipper Dhoni, who is facing the danger of losing a home ODI series and a second straight one after the 2-1 defeat against Bangladesh earlier this year.
If Ravichandran Ashwin’s side strain is one of the many on-field worries for Dhoni, the problems have been compounded by off-field woes as leg-spinner Amit Mishra is facing assault charges with a woman filing a case against the leg-spinner at the Bengaluru police station. It is still not clear whether Mishra will be playing this match or not.
Run chases have been a problem of late for the Indian team as skipper himself has admitted that the side is yet to figure out as to who are the ideal players at Nos 5, 6 and 7.
These are the three slots where batsmen who are capable of big hits and can be finishers in close run chases are preferred.
However, with an ageing Dhoni preferring to bat up the order, Ajinkya Rahane is yet to find his mojo at No 5 or 6.
Dhoni’s deputy Virat Kohli finally got some ODI runs (77) in the last game albeit it came in a losing cause.
But Virat scored the moment he was back at his preferred No 3 slot while Rahane, the moment he was demoted, couldn’t get going after two half-centuries in the first two games.
Suresh Raina is another player who is not in good form.
Only 3 runs from 3 matches is not a fair indication of one of India’s better limited overs cricketer but Raina is certainly going through a lean patch which has increased the pressure on the other batsmen.
While Rohit Sharma is in the form of his life in the shorter versions with more success than failures in recent times, the same can’t be said about his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan, who has managed only 59 runs in 3 matches.
Strangely, Dhawan has so far scored three centuries in his last three Test matches but sadly that form has not rubbed off on him when in coloured clothes.
Dhoni has so far done a lot of shuffling with the batting order and it will be interesting to see what exactly will be the permutations and combinations he will be trying in Thursday’s game.
With Kohli scoring runs, it will be difficult to remove him from No 3 while it will be even more difficult to slot Rahane at No 4 considering that skipper himself is feeling comfortable up the order.
With 173 runs in three matches, Dhoni is now second in the list among Indian run-scorers after Rohit Sharma (218 runs) but some of the times, his batting has been a bit different from the usual.
While Indore saw what Dhoni is capable of, Rajkot was an example of a player who is reaching the business end of a fine limited overs career.
The Indian team’s bowling attack will depend a lot on how Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the initial overs and Harbhajan Singh in the middle overs perform.
Ashwin’s absence will certainly hurt the team as he was in peak form and the South Africans with a clutch of left-handers would have found him difficult to handle.
For South Africa also, there will be some injury issues that they need to deal with.
Morne Morkel has a sore leg and is unlikely to feature in the penultimate match while one of their finest death-over hitters JP Duminy is out for three weeks with a hand injury.
His replacement Dean Elgar will have his task cut in the next two games.
The South African team has had a mix and match kind of performance by their batsmen with skipper AB de Villiers scoring a hundred and Faf du Plessis hitting three half-centuries in as many matches.
Quinton de Kock returned to form with a responsible century in the last game. The only problem has been Hashim Amla’s form which has been patchy with only 59 runs in three matches.
India: MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Axar Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Mohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, S Arvind, Stuart Binny, Ambati Rayudu, Gurkeerat Mann.
South Africa: AB De Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf Du Plessis, Dean Elgar, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, Khaya Zondo, Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada.