Top order’s lean run of scores hurting the team

Johannesburg woke up to a bleak rain-swept dawn and the damp weather extended all over the Highveld region here on Tuesday. Nearly 40 kilometres away in Centurion, the scene was no different and it poured all over Super Sport Park, the venue of Wednesday’s third and final ODI between India and South Africa.

On a day when despite the inclement climate, all roads led to Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium where Presidents ranging from Barack Obama to Pranab Mukherjee paid their tributes in a memorial service to the late Nelson Mandela, the Indian and South African squads peered at the dark skies before training indoors.

The contest, weather-permitting, offers diverse goals to the rival teams. South Africa as its captain AB de Villiers suggested, would aim for a 3-0 sweep.

“Beating the No.1 side 3-0 would be massive for us,” the Proteas captain said while India has to reverse its losses.

A win would help M.S. Dhoni’s men to look ahead at the forthcoming two Tests with hope and belief.

India made partial progress in the second game at Durban but that was not enough to compete against a home team that has regained its spark.

The bowlers did well to restrict South Africa to 280 but the Indian batsmen struggled against the Dale Steyn-Lonwabo Tsotsobe duo.

Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli had scored the bulk of India’s runs back home but after landing in South Africa, their combined yield has been 80 runs from two innings.

And that has hurt the ‘Men in Blue’ while there are still doubts about whether Yuvraj Singh, who is down with back spasms, would be fit for the contest.

India has been plagued by poor starts, evident in scores of 65 for four at Johannesburg and 34 for four at Durban. Chasing totals ranging from the massive (358) to the challenging (280), the visitors cannot afford such top-order wobbles and it has left Dhoni and company with too much to achieve against a rampant pace attack and an inflationary required run-rate.

The fact also remains that Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja cannot just dish out cameos when the need is to both drop anchor as well as accelerate the chase.

The bowlers meanwhile can take heart from a relatively better display at Durban. Though Dhoni’s gambit of playing Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma did not net the desired wickets, overall the parsimony of R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and the striking skills of Mohammad Shami, ensured  that South Africa did not run away with another 300-plus total.

At the Super Sport Park, India has a decent record against the host with a win-loss ratio of 2:2 and inspiration can also be drawn from those stirring memories of Sachin Tendulkar’s sensational assault on Shoaib Akhtar here in a 2003 World Cup encounter.

Now the Generation-Next has a chance to leave its imprint though the opposition is on a high thanks to the perfect moves it has made on the opening flanks, both in batting and in bowling.

Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock have scripted huge partnerships while Steyn has led the attack admirably and that has left the Indians playing catch-up. 

In a month-long tour where there is hardly any time to recover once the defeats pile-up, India has to find its feet quickly and embrace victory’s warmth in a landscape that has strangely remained moist and cold in a season that is called summer!

The teams (from):

India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Mohit Sharma and Amit Mishra.

South Africa: A.B. de Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Quinton de Kock, J-P Duminy, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Umpires: Richard Illingworth and J.D. Cloete; Third umpire: Shaun George; Match referee: Andy Pycroft. 

Match starts 5 p.m. IST.

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