Port Elizabeth: Having gained a 2-1 lead after registering back-to-back victories in the last two games against the Proteas, India go into the fourth cricket one-dayer here on Friday seeking to clinch their first-ever ODI series triumph on South African soil.
The Indians have never won a limited-overs series in South Africa and Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his young bravehearts will leave no stone unturned to achieve the feat at the St George’s Park.
After not-so-impressive batting performances in the first two matches, India, riding on Yusuf Pathan’s batting prowess, managed to get the better of the hosts by two wickets in the third one-dayer in Cape Town.
In a close encounter, Pathan was the difference between the two sides as he scored a superb 50-ball 59, including three big sixes in one over off Johan Botha to turn the tide in India’s favour. He also chipped in with a wicket and a catch to bag the man of the match award.
But barring Pathan’s knock in the previous game, an injury-hit India’s batting line-up has not shown much teeth, with the form of the top order batsmen continuing to be a cause of worry for the team.
The batting has come a cropper in all the three matches so far and the visitors managed to pull off an incredible one-run victory over South Africa in the second game mainly because of the efforts of the bowlers, especially pacer Munaf Patel.
Going into the fourth one-dayer, India would not only want to win the series here but also be keen to see their talented batting line-up, which has been a disappointment so far, show some character on the pacy wickets of South Africa.
With seniors like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir missing from the ranks, the youngsters, who have done well in the recent past, have not been able to cope with the conditions.
However, except in the first game, even South Africans have not been too impressive with the bat. In the previous one-dayer, the hosts struggled to reach 220 all out with debutant Du Plessis (60) and JP Duminy (52) sharing a crucial 110-run stand for the fifth-wicket.
Replying to a modest total, Indians, too, struggled under lights, as at one stage they were reeling at 93 for five before Pathan’s innings coupled with Harbhajan Singh’s useful 23 bailed the visitors out.
India’s bowling attack, in contrast, has been impressive with the pace duo of Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel creating enough problems for the batsmen. Even the spin spearhead Harbhajan Singh has come out with flying colours with his consistent performance.
In the third ODI, the off-spinner’s around-the-wicket line to South African left-handers turned out to be the key reason for the hosts getting bundled out for a paltry 220.
Harbhajan (2-23) controlled the proceedings in the middle overs before Zaheer and Munaf returned at the death to bowl out South Africa in 49.2 overs.
In the second match, too, it was some superb bowling by the Indians that helped them defend a low total of 190.
In tomorrow’s match, the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina, who have showed mere flashes of brilliance so far, would need to fire if the visitors hope to take an unassailable lead.
It is also high time that captain MS Dhoni produce something valuable with his bat.
Besides, Murali Vijay, who got into the side due to absence of regular openers -- Sehwag and Gambhir -- must also score some runs to show his worth in the limited-overs format.
Lack of solid starts has put undue pressure on India’s middle order.
The visitors would need to sort out this problem in tomorrow’s game if they want to counter the home team, who are expected to play out of their skins to level the series.
South African batsmen, in the absence of veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis, lack the required balance in the side and even as captain Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, AB de
Villiers, JP Duminy and new comer Faf du Plessis have all chipped in with runs, they simply could not make up for the lost sheen so far in the tournament.
The hosts would be required to put in a great effort in all departments of their game if they wanted to overcome a confident and spirited Indians in tomorrow’s encounter.
The teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/keeper), Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel,
Ashish Nehra, S Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Parthiv Patel.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper), Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Colin Ingram, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Match starts 1800 hrs (IST).