VISAKHAPATNAM: The selectors must have thought that resting a couple of key players wouldn’t make much of a difference to the prospects of the Indian team as the bench strength is quite good. Taking on the fourth ranked South Africa squad which lacks ‘star power’ was supposed to be a cake walk especially since most of the Indian players had a good outing in the recent IPL.
India lost captain KL Rahul and spinner Kuldeep Yadav on the eve of the first game, but it still didn’t warrant a rethink. The selectors promptly elevated wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant and made Gujarat Titans’ successful skipper Hardik Pandya his deputy.
At the Kotla, it looked like things were going according to script as the Indians put up a mammoth 212 on the board and had the South Africans in a spot of bother early on but the visitors pulled up a stunning seven-wicket win with five balls to spare thanks to Rassie van der Dussen and David Miller. Things went from bad to worse for the hosts at Cuttack and they found themselves 0-2 down in the five-match series. In both the matches, the Indians were in the game for quite some time.
With the outcome of the series perched on Tuesday’s game at the Dr YSR ACA-VDCA Stadium, it’s time for the Pant led team to come up with some out-of-the-box thinking. With head coach Rahul Dravid in the mix of things, there is no dearth of cerebral thinking but somehow the Indians have looked clueless in the first two games. They seemed to lack a strategy to counter the South Africans.
There could be a few changes in the offing for the third game as the Indians will try to plug the gaps. Ruturaj Gaikwad hasn’t looked comfortable in both the games and with Shreyas Iyer failing to force the pace against the fast bowlers, it has been left to Ishan Kishan to get the runs on the board. In the previous game, Axar Patel was sent ahead of Dinesh Karthik. Is Karthik only good to bat at the death? Wouldn’t it have been prudent to have given him more time in the middle. What about Deepak Hooda?
But more than the batting it is the bowling which has let the team down. Even though Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced a brilliant spell at Cuttack, the Indians lacked a back-up for him. It looks as if the bowlers have lost their ability to take wickets. The spinners – Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel – have looked pedestrian. Will Avesh Khan make way for either Arshdeep Singh or Umar Malik? Will leggie Ravi Bishnoi get a look in?
These are some of the questions the Indians will have to resolve if they wish to prevent the series being lost here. But more importantly, the will to win has to be stronger than the skill. This is one area where the South Africans have scored big in the series thus far.
The Indians, however, can take heart that they have a great track record at this stadium. They have lost only two games out of 12 international matches – an ODI against the West Indies and a T20I against Australia. However, most of the wins have been achieved by the team batting second and that will be a bother for Pant as Temba Bavuma, who has been brilliant as a captain, has been successful with the toss in both the games played thus far.
The South Africans, on the other hand, have less worries on their plate and could just go with the flow of things. One good day in the office and they will have the series in their pocket.

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