The series is alive with the sound of renewed South African confidence. The home team was literally inches away from going 4-0 down in the six-game One-Day International series against India, the inches of Yuzvendra Chahal’s boot that stepped over the line and granted David Miller a reprieve in the Pink ODI in Johannesburg. And from there, it was as if Miller was reborn. With Heinrich Klaasen showing nerves of steel, South Africa surged to a five-wicket DLS win, and the two teams have arrived in Port Elizabeth for the fifth ODI with a palpable change in the mood.
India will still be favoured to win the series, but South Africa’s cause suddenly doesn’t look as hopeless as it did a couple of days ago. However, on Tuesday (February 13) at the St. George’s Park stadium, South Africa will still be fighting to keep the series alive in another must-win clash.
Crucially, South Africa have demystified to some extent the hold that Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav had over their batsmen. The conditions at the Wanderers – an outfield made wet by rain and game reduced almost to a T20 contest – helped enormously, but for the first time in the series, there was the sight of South African batsmen confidently taking on India’s wrist-spin duo. Psychologically, that will be a huge factor.
“I think the team has been really positive,” said Andile Phehlukwayo, who smashed 23 not out off five balls to finish off the last ODI quickly. “We have obviously been training very hard. We have a good momentum now from the last game we played. I think we have come really far with that victory because the guys have been working really hard in the nets and we have been very specific about our training. We have been in a good space and the team environment is really good.”
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Shreyas Iyer, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Shardul Thakur.
South Africa: Aiden Markram (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Lungisani Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Khaya Zondo, Farhaan Behardien, Heinrich Klaasen (wk).
Port Elizabeth was under a heavy cloud cover through large parts of Monday, and there is rain forecast in the morning at least on Tuesday, which will have to be factored into both teams’ plans. Port Elizabeth is also known as the windy city, and there is a constant breeze blowing through which will pose additional challenges. “Definitely we’ll take that into consideration,” said R Sridhar, India’s fielding coach. “That is something that is important, especially for high balls. You have to keep that into account, it comes under your awareness. No matter where you are fielding on the boundary line, you need to be aware which way the wind is blowing. You also need to be aware of the batsmen’s tendencies, the game situation, and accordingly, you should be able to prepare in terms of wanting the ball to come to you.”
South Africa had a full-fledged training session on match eve, with almost all players present, while India had an optional session that only Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, Shardul Thakur, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel and Kuldeep Yadav attended.
This is the ground on which the first four-day day/night Test was held, which eventually finished inside two days with South Africa demolishing Zimbabwe a little over a month ago. If the conditions stay pace-friendly, South Africa will be happy to stick to their playing XI with JP Duminy supporting the quicks, though Aiden Markram might want to watch his over-rates with an all-pace attack, having already copped one fine at Johannesburg.
India may not want to tinker with the XI too much, and will wait on Kedar Jadhav’s fitness too. But they still have areas to address. Rohit Sharma has had woeful returns so far in the series, and he’s due a big one. The batting has been far too reliant on Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, and the middle order too needs to get going. The bowling, one bad day apart, has been excellent so Kohli won’t have too many worries on that score.
Sridhar said that defeat in the last ODI was as much down to the exceptional circumstances created by the rain and the shortening of the game as anything else. “We are really upbeat. We have the confidence of the wins from the first three games,” he said. “We know our game-plans. Like they say, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. So we are still confident and we’ll surely come back in the next game with a good solid game-plan.”
India are still in the position they were in before the Pink ODI, with one win guaranteeing them a first-ever bilateral series triumph against South Africa away. And given how the series has gone overall so far, they will still back themselves to pull it off.