India’s Chance to Experiment
The No. 4 position has been tricky for India since the 2011 World Cup
With South Africa losing players to injury like nine pins, India's tour of the Rainbow Nation is getting a face uplift as they routed the hosts in the first two ODIs with their wrist spinners picking up 13 of the 18 wickets to fall.
Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have been so good that India barely needed to go beyond them to perturb the Proteas who look completely at sea against the duo.
Faf du Plessis was the only batsmen to handle the spinners with some degree of conviction but with him ruled out of the series and de Villiers not due to return until the fourth ODI, the South Africans are in a fix. The latest injury to Quinton de Kock only adds to their woes.
This brings us back to India who are only 2-0 ahead in the series but psychologically they have already won the battle. However, the victories have come with a major influence from Virat Kohli and the wrist spinners, the familiar match winners.
A series win would be a big boost to India's poor limited-overs record in the country but they might also want to keep an eye on the World Cup due next year and experiment a touch. They do have vulnerabilities in their ODI line-up that they should seek to iron out in the next few months.
Here we look to dissect India’s squad and what their aim should be from this series, now that they are 2-0 ahead and appear set to continue their routing.
The no.4 position has been a tricky one for India ever since the 2011 World Cup. Several players including Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik and Shreyas Iyer have fought for the coveted slot in the middle-order but the Indians haven't been able to zero in on one player.
Rahane being pushed back to the middle-order for this series showed that India felt they needed experience in that position and the Mumbaikar justified the move with a brilliant half-century in a game-changing partnership with Virat Kohli in the first ODI.
Rahane's success means that he should ideally get the no.4 position for the whole series and try to make it his own. Conditions in England warrant a reliable batsman in the middle-order who is capable of putting a price on his wicket and altering the flow of the game depending on the situation.
The likes of Shardul Thakur, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey and Axar Patel remained on the bench in the first two matches but that could change given the dominant manner in which India have brushed aside the hapless hosts.
Thakur, an aggressive swing bowler with good pace and decent variations, could be given a fair run in place of one of the two settled seamers in the line-up, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It could potentially give Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar some much needed time off and also help Thakur gain some game-time.
Iyer, on the other hand, came to South Africa as the preferred no.4 having smashed back to back half-centuries against Sri Lanka but India’s move to bring back Rahane to the middle-order has been detrimental for him. He amd Manish Pandey could potentially get a couple of games at the expense of Hardik Pandya or Kedar Jadhav later in the series.
While India have a settled bowling attack, they have barely been tested to the extent that their fifth bowler becomes vital. Right now Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav share fifth bowling duties but neither look capable of holding their own as a fifth bowler in the line-up in such conditions.
Pandya has completed his quota of overs only 9 times in 34 ODIs while Jadhav has done it just once in 39 ODIs. Kohli too does not seem to keen to test Pandya’s ability to bowl 10 overs as the all-rounder has been mostly used immediately after a wicket falls to push through some overs.
Faf du Plessis and Chris Morris made India pay with a counter-attacking stand in the first ODI when Pandya was operating which clearly portrayed the Baroda all-rounder as India’s weak link in the bowling attack.
India might need to test Pandya as a proper fifth bowling option with South Africa's batting going haywire. In the meantime, they will also be aware that unless he can do that, Jadhav will have to remain in the squad because India do not have another part-timer who can fill in.