India need to be smart to maximise run-making: Harbhajan

The Indians find themselves under pressure, two games to one down in the five-match series, as another small stumble can now seal the series.

"We want to take wickets as a spinning unit," says Harbhajan Singh.   -  V. GANESAN

"No matter how slow the surface is, it’s difficult to get the quicker balls away,” says South African speedster Dale Steyn.   -  B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

When India and South Africa have fought on equal terms in the One-Day International series, the inability of India’s batting unit to accelerate expertly at the death has cost them. The teams, guided by centuries from AB de Villiers and Rohit Sharma in Kanpur, established a good launch pad for their middle-order batsmen to explode, but India fell short after some expert death bowling under pressure from the South African pacemen. In Rajkot, they faltered again. The Indians find themselves under pressure, two games to one down in the five-match series, as another small stumble can now seal the series.

One of the reasons seems to be the presence of five fielders outside the ring in the business end of a 50-over innings. But Harbhajan Singh played down the rule change as a hindering factor, and conveyed the need to be smart to accumulate runs.

“[The presence of five fielders outside the circle] is a good rule: it brings a lot of balance between bat and ball. Instead of looking to hit boundaries, we should look to take a lot of singles, rotate strike from the first ball. No one is so good as to bowl six balls that you cannot score off.

“We’ve played [before] with this rule. Almost all my life I have seen five fielders out. But people have scored runs.”

Dale Steyn, speaking ahead of his squad’s practice session in the afternoon at the cauldron-like Chepauk, put the difference down to a simple factor — pace. “All three quick bowlers bowl at more than 140 kph. No matter how slow the surface is, it’s difficult to get the quicker balls away.”

The one victory India garnered, out of an iffy start they had suffered batting first, was caused and catalysed by the successful stifling of runs, and wickets at regular intervals by spinners Harbhajan and Axar Patel. Spin was introduced by the sixth over in South Africa’s innings, and it helped India chip away at their opposition with the wickets. It is India’s trump card, something Harbhajan touched upon.

“We want to take wickets as a spinning unit. That is the best way to restrict the flow of runs. It is nice to have variety in the team (in terms of three different categories of spinners in the side). I keep talking to them whenever I can about what can be done.”

The third spinner in the line-up, leggie Amit Mishra, shone with an economical spell of one for 38 in Rajkot to help restrict South Africa to 270 after they had looked like getting more. The trio is likely to feature in the Chennai track known to suit spin bowling.

“This is one place where spinners enjoy. Hopefully, Chennai will change our luck. The team will go all out to win tomorrow.”

The venue has neither been too successful nor too unsuccessful for India, who have won five ODIs and lost four here.