South Africa faces tall task to level series against dominant India

South African pacers will need to be on the mark against a top heavy Indian batting line-up in the third T20I match against India in Bengaluru.

Kohli continued his dominant run in T20Is with a classy unbeaten fifty in Mohali.   -  K. Murali Kumar

After a resounding victory against South Africa in Mohali, India will go into the third and final T20I at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Sunday as the firm favourite to clinch the series 2-0. The first match in Dehradun was abandoned due to rain. 

The policy of rotating the bowlers has worked well for India so far. Bowlers like Washington Sundar and Deepak Chahar have performed exceptionally well. Their credible performances have added to the strengths of this growingly dominant Indian side which hasn’t missed the services of Jasprit Bumrah or the spin pair of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal.

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Virat Kohli is showing no signs of a dip in form, overtaking Rohit Sharma as the world’s highest run-getter in T20I during his classy unbeaten 72 in the second T20I in Mohali. Only seven runs separate the two batsmen at the moment and much oscillation in the roll of honours can be expected with both the players in fine nick.

Dhawan came up with a knock of 40 to return to form after his untimely injury during the World Cup. Shreyas Iyer has done well in the opportunities provided in the limited overs set-up including a brilliant run with the 'A' team  -- everything seems to be going according to the plan for India at the moment, except of course for the form of wicket-keeper batsman Rishabh Pant.

Rishabh Pant is under fire to perform after coming under criticism for reckless shot selection. PHOTO: K. Murali Kumar

 

With stern words of caution from the likes of Kohli, batting coach Vikram Rathour and coach Ravi Shastri, Pant is under tremendous pressure to prove his worth in the team. The third and final T20I in Bengaluru on Sunday, is a make-or-break game for the 21-year-old wicketkeeper. 

South Africa was outplayed by a clearly superior Indian team in the second T20I, with pacers Kagiso Rabada and Andile Phehlukwayo largely made ineffective by the slow nature of the wicket at Mohali. The pitch at Chinnaswamy stadium will offer true bounce and help speedsters, but shorter boundaries mean it’s again going to be a challenge for the pace-dependent South African team to contain a line-up where the top three alone boast of a combined run-aggregate of 6,252.

Only David Miller has a run-aggregate of more than 1000 in the away line-up and only two more (captain Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks have scored more than 500 runs). The team is certainly still smarting from the retirement of explosive batsman AB de Villiers. 

South Africa vice-captain Rassie van der Dussen dissected the team’s performance for lessons for the upcoming challenge. “Mohali game was a bit disappointing for us. We started so well having lost the toss and being put in to bat. After a good ten overs, it was the perfect platform for batsmen like myself, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius to come in and do some damage at the back.We know we didn’t execute our plans as well as we wanted to. I obviously got out early, Miller got in and got out at the wrong time. We didn’t do enough to get runs in the last five overs.

South Africa will look to David Miller to take charge of the side's middle order. PHOTO: K. Murali Kumar

 

“In hindsight, 165 would have been a good score for us to get. But we were 10-15 runs short. Virat played well, but we didn’t score enough to put a lot of pressure,” he admitted. 

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He, however, spoke of the need to go with an intent to win despite the odds stacked against his team. “Under the new coach Enoch Nkwe, the emphasis has been to win. We are coming here to compete in the traditional South African way: we train hard, we play hard...Even though we have a young squad, we are not going to stand back for anyone. We knew it was going to be tough, India is one of the strongest teams in the world and we are embracing that challenge. Unfortunately, the first game got rained out, but we have one more chance to level the series here,” he said, showing optimism.

India, meanwhile, took full advantage of preparing in Bengaluru with Rahul Dravid, currently the head of National Cricket Academy, sharing his inputs with the team, including Test players Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Jasprit Bumrah, who were in attendance at the nets.