India lead the six-match series 4-1 (Image courtesy: AFP)
India lead the six-match series 4-1 (Image courtesy: AFP)

“For now, 4-1 feels great. We want to win 5-1 for sure, but there might a scenario for a few more guys to get a chance in the next match. But the ultimate priority is to win and we’ll do anything we can to win,” stated a jubilant Virat Kohli after becoming the first Indian skipper to win a series in South Africa. The final ODI termed is a ‘dead rubber’, but both sides have different agendas in mind. While South Africa would play for a 2-4 scoreline, India will test their bench strength with an aim of further domination.

Since mid-2013, India have relied heavily on their top three. Kohli, Rohit and Dhawan have performed consistently. Before MS Dhoni entered the twilight of his career and till Suresh Raina had a permanent place, everything worked well. The present middle order, unfortunately, hardly evokes confidence of that level. India have struggled to get past 300 in the past two encounters despite looking comfortable after 35 overs: they were 205 for 2 at Johannesburg and 196 for 3 in Port Elizabeth.

India’s lower order needs to take the momentum forward provided by the top order. How can this happen? Let us think of a line-up that will put the onus on the lower half. If Kohli brings wholesome changes, the lower order will come under spotlight. If Rohit is rested, Ajinkya Rahane (or Dinesh Karthik or Shreyas Iyer) will open with Dhawan. Kohli will come at No. 3 — ensuring smooth strike rotation — and changes will occur from thereon.

Dhoni has complied only 67 runs in the series. It makes sense to promote him at No. 4 and ensure he plays more deliveries. But the team management would have gone by this change by now, if at all it is to happen. But if Dhoni indeed comes at 4, the youngsters will get freedom to go bonkers from ball one. Iyer (or Karthik) and Hardik Pandya, at Nos. 5 and 6 respectively, will get a  chance to flex their muscles and tested to propel the score beyond 300.

The bowling attack

If India are really looking to play their ‘untested players’, they should rest Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah. Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur have been waiting eagerly to get a game under their belt. Shami, owing to a good Test series, will be fresh and raring to go.

Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal will continue to hunt in pair the way they have throughout the series. They duo has claimed 30 wickets from 5 ODIs, and will be the first names to be written in the final sheet. Akshar Patel could have replaced Pandya, but the latter’s bowling and fielding in the fifth ODI prevents him from missing out.

What is up with South Africa?

“It takes time to read good leg-break bowlers. We have to accept we don’t have enough world-class leg-spinners in our country. So, this is a learning curve for the youngsters in our team. Experience is the key. There are basically two ways to read leg-break bowling. Either you pick up from wrists or wait for the ball to pitch. No two batsmen would employ the same technique. As one plays more international cricket, he would know what works best for him. Everyone devise their own mechanism to get out of trouble,” explained Jacques Kallis.

Kallis echoed Graeme Smith, insisting that South Africa lack depth in the upcoming batch of batsmen: “Probably South Africa must have realised by now that they don’t have much depth when senior cricketers [AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis] get injured. They [CSA] need to look carefully about how they will expose youngsters to international cricket.”

While Kallis supported his countrymen, he also made it clear that the younger lot need to address their spin woes quickly. De Villiers and Hashim Amla will ask the likes of Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller to give the ‘spin issues’ another try, amidst no pressure (with the series outcome done and dusted).

Likely XIs

India: Dinesh Karthik, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), MS Dhoni (wk), Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Manish Pandey, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur

South Africa: Aiden Markram (c), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), David Miller, Chris Morris (if fit), Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Morne Morkel, Tabraiz Shamsi

Squads:

South Africa: Aiden Markram (c), Heinrich Klaasen (wk), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Khayelihle Zondo, Farhaan Behardien, AB de Villiers.

India: Virat Kohli (c), MS Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Akshar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur.

TIME: 16:30 IST | 11:00 GMT