India target series-clincher, South Africa look to survive
(Eds: correcting name in 8th para)
By Chetan Narula
Centurion, Feb 20 (PTI) A ruthless India has only complacency to guard against while a deflated South Africa would be fighting another battle of survival when the two sides clash in the series-deciding second Twenty20 International, here tomorrow.
The Men in Blue won the first T20I at Johannesburg by 28 runs and a victory tomorrow will see them wrap up another series win on this tour.
A highly competitive 1-2 loss in the Tests, followed by a comprehensive 5-1 ODI triumph has made for quite a roller-coaster tour so far and the Indians would be aiming for a happy end to the long sojourn with a T20 victory.
A prospective 3-0 series' win would also help India climb up the ICC T20I Rankings and take up second spot behind Pakistan. However, if Australia beat New Zealand in the T20 tri-series' final (on Wednesday as well), India would stay on in their current third position.
Word from the Indian camp is that Virat Kohli will be fit in time for game. The skipper had hobbled off in latter stages of the previous game on Sunday with a left hip problem. The team management had deemed the issue as "nothing serious", and as such, he is expected to walk out at toss time on tomorrow.
Kohli had suffered a slight knee issue while fielding in the first ODI at Durban as well, but he brushed it off to score a fine hundred thereafter. Even so, another injury scare only underlines his exhaustive workload.
Wrapping up the series here might also enable Kohli to take time off and sit out the final T20I in Cape Town, keeping in mind his hectic schedule over the next three months.
If at all, India do need to consider his absence from this second match, then K L Rahhul would come in as replacement.
He was left out from the previous game in favour of Manish Pandey, but now comes back into reckoning owing to Kohli's pending fitness ruling.
However, it is not expected to be the only change to the playing eleven. While India have shown a propensity recently to play a left-arm pacer in their T20I eleven, Jaydev Unadkat's inclusion in the Wanderers game was perhaps down more to the good batting conditions on offer.
The pitch at Supersport Park has played slow throughout this tour and the same is to be expected once more. In that light, India could once again opt for two spinners in the eleven, and 'chinaman' Kuldeep Yadav comes back into reckoning.
Even left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who hasn't got a game on tour yet, could be considered given his ability to keep things tight.
The one surprising element for India was Suresh Raina's elevation to number three. If Kohli does play, will he repeat this ploy once again?
In Johannesburg, it was obvious that the team management had gauged conditions early and deemed 200 a par-score on that pitch.
Thus, their move to send Raina up and attack during the powerplay overs with Kohli held back to anchor the middle-order, allowing the returning left-hander a license to free shot-making.
To an extent, it does shore up India's only frailty – lower middle order – particularly as the team management continues to back MS Dhoni in the shortest format.
The former skipper is also reluctant to bat higher up in keeping with his penchant for finishing off the innings.
Kohli's 'demotion' to number four, despite staggering average at his favoured spot, helps stabilise the lower middle order at least in the short term.
Meanwhile, only last Tuesday, South Africa had faced a do-or-die moment in Port Elizabeth and now have their backs up against the wall for a second time in eight days.
The hosts had put their hopes in a basket full of new eggs. Yet, despite hitting the refresh button, they weren't able to muster the required challenge for a high-flying Indian team at the moment.
AB de Villiers is now ruled out of this T20I series (with a left knee problem) as well but Cricket South Africa has not named a replacement. So, JP Duminy must find solutions from within the available squad.
The stand-in skipper was adamant that their plans at Wanderers – including the decision to bowl short to India's top-order in the powerplay overs – were sound enough, and just needed proper execution.
In that light, it is easy to assume the same playing eleven could take the field yet again.
It remains to be seen if the Centurion pitch will provide them enough bounce to try out the short-ball ploy once again, or indeed if the Proteas have thought of a plan B this time around.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur.
South Africa: JP Duminy (capt), Farhaan Behardien, Junior Dala, Reeza Hendricks, Christiaan Jonker, Heinrich Klaasen (wk), David Miller, Chris Morris, Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Tabraiz Shamsi, Jon-Jon Smuts.
Match starts at: 9.30 pm IST