Pressure is not something alien to Indian cricket. Players learn to deal with it rather early in their international careers as a couple of exceptional performances turn them into superstars in the country – take the example of MS Dhoni. But, what cannot be denied is that the pressure is always greater when India plays at home. And, as Dhoni and his men head out for the first match of the ODI series at Kanpur, they will feel the heat for sure. They lost the T20s 2-0, and the reaction of the crowd at Cuttack was an indication that fans are now quite pleased with Indian cricket at the moment.
Although T20 performances cannot be taken into consideration as the teams head into the one-dayers, momentum is definitely a factor that will be in the opposite camp. Of all players, Dhoni will be under most pressure as far as the hosts are concerned. Not only because he is the captain, that is something which has become mundane now. But, because of his performance, or the lack of it, which has put his place in the team under question. He needs to answer his critics in the one-day series.
India has picked Gurkeerat Singh Mann for the first three one-dayers. He has been in excellent form recently in domestic cricket so it remains to be seen if he gets a chance. With the number seven slot still a worry for India, Mann should be tried in at that slot. It will also be interesting to observe what playing eleven the Indians go in with. The positions of Ambati Rayudu and Axar Patel will be under pressure following their failures in the T20s. Cricketing logic states that Ajinkya Rahane and Amit Mishra should get their deserved places back. But, with Dhoni, you just never know.
While their batting failed in the second T20, the line-up should deliver on batsman-friendly pitches. It is the bowling which should worry them. In the absence of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav will have to step up. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma haven’t been quite as impressive in recent times. In the T20s, Ravichandran Ashwin almost single-handedly took the fight into the opposition camp. They cannot afford such shabby efforts in the one-dayers if they want to compete. India need to be clear about their bowling game plan as they head into Kanpur.
The Indian bowlers won’t find it easy as South Africa have one of the strongest batting line-ups in the world. Stopping the likes of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Jean-Paul Duminy and Faf du Plessis will be a real task for the hosts. India’s batting will be tested further as their pace veterans Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel return after being rested for the T20s. Kagiso Rabada has made a superb start to his international career, and would be keen to continue the same. If South Africa’s bowlers fire, India won’t have it easy with the bat as well.
--By A Cricket Analyst