Unstoppable India eye 5-1, SA aim consolation
Centurion: A historic series triumph sealed, India are expected to put their bench strength to test while a vanquished South Africa would aim for a consolatory win when the two sides square off in the sixth and final ODI, here on Friday.
The Men in Blue have already won the six-match series with a 4-1 margin, after victories in Durban, Centurion, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Their only loss came at the rain- affected fourth ODI in Johannesburg.
With victory in the last game, India also confirmed their No.1 spot in the ICC ODI Rankings, taking over from South Africa who were sitting atop at the start of this series.
Having won the series, India would like to carry on momentum, especially with the three-match T20I series to follow soon after. Yet, the visitors would also like to find a balance between going all out in a dead rubber and resting a few players keeping in mind a long overseas schedule later this year.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has nearly played non-stop since the limited-overs leg of the tour of Sri Lanka, featuring in 19 ODIs and six T20Is as well as two Tests on this tour. Jasprit Bumrah too has played 20 ODIs since that Lanka tour, along with eight T20Is and his workload has only increased given that he played through the Test series here as well.
Some rest will do both of them some good especially ahead of the next contest.
Alternately, India's second line of pace attack needs some attention. Since that Sri Lanka tour, the Men in Blue have played 20 ODIs and the Kumar-Bumrah duo has not featured together in only one of them — at Bengaluru against Australia.
One way to look at this is the splendid job they have done as the foremost new-ball pairing in limited-overs' cricket.
The other way, of course, is that Team India is too dependent on them and should look to build back-up options, given the preparatory mode for the 2019 World Cup. Mohammed Shami has only played three ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. Ever since he returned from injury, he has featured twice against West Indies (2017) and then once against Australia.
Shardul Thakur, the fourth pacer in this current squad, has only ever played in two ODIs. It suffices to say that India currently do not have a reliable second-choice pace attack and despite the success of Kumar-Bumrah combination, this aspect needs urgent attention.
The middle-order continues to be another area of focus.
There has only been one half-century contributed from Nos. 4-7 in this series. After Ajinkya Rahane's effort in Durban, only MS Dhoni came close at the Wanderers when he played the situation with 42 not out off 43 balls. Shreyas Iyer has got starts in both the matches he has played but failed to capitalise. Rahane too has fizzled out since his comeback at No.4. Hardik Pandya has scored 26 runs in four innings in this ODI series. The slow nature of pitches is one of the reasons being attributed to this downturn.
With the top-order doing well and essentially eating out 30-35 overs in every game, the middle-order has been forced to bat in high gear most of the time. It also needs to be mentioned that South Africa's death bowling is seen to be their only high point of the series so far.
Either way, the Indian think-tank needs to pay more attention to their middle-order woes. Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik are in the squad yet it is tough to see both of them get a game here. The Indian team opted not to train today, taking this pre-match day off, on what has been a long and hectic tour.
South Africa, on the other hand, would want to finish this ODI series on a high and take fresh guard for the Twenty20 International series, which gets underway on February 18.
A clutch of their first-choice bowlers have been rested ahead of Australia s tour here, and it is the last bow for the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi against India on this trip. They will be keen to make an impression.
It remains to be seen if the Supersport Park pitch plays any different from how it did in the previous game here, which India won by nine wickets in rampant fashion.