x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

South Africa could rest Dale Steyn in dead rubber against India

Yuvraj Singh has recovered from back spasms but may or may not not play in third and final ODI, reports Anand Vasu.

Dale Steyn, left, has been in excellent form in limited-overs cricket in recent times. Delores Johnson / The National
Dale Steyn, left, has been in excellent form in limited-overs cricket in recent times. Delores Johnson / The National

PRETORIA // Tuesday dawned gloomy and grey, the steady pitter-patter of summer rain forcing everyone indoors. The South African public braved the weather to be at the memorial service of Nelson Mandela in Soweto, and the Indian and South African cricket teams kept their focus on the game. Both teams drove down to Centurion in the rain and had full workouts in the indoor nets.

For the Indians, there was no question of not having a hit as the final one-day international – another day-night fixture for which rain is forecast – is the last limited-overs opportunity to show what they are made of.

In the first ODI at Johannesburg, India were slow to adapt, and the conditions were unwelcome and extreme. The pitch was greener than anyone could remembered and Dale Steyn was in the sort of mood that makes him irresistible.

In the second ODI, however, India could hardly point to the conditions for their convincing defeat. India’s bowlers had a better outing, keeping South Africa down to 280, despite centuries from Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla.

The batsmen, however, departed from their disciplined approach in the first ODI, and the fine balance between shot selection and execution was not maintained.

With the short series having already been sealed by South Africa, there was every chance that Steyn would be rested in Centurion.

Not because his workload has been unusually high, but in the past, South Africa have shown that they like to keep their top bowler wrapped in cotton wool whenever the chance presents itself.

Steyn is at his best run in ODIs, having picked up 27 wickets at an average of 15.85 and an economy rate of 3.65 in 13 games this calendar year. Steyn will be keen to play, and the question will become, what is the best long-term strategy: keep the rhythm going and India pegged back or keep Steyn fresh for the Tests?

South Africa’s attack, of course, is much more than just Steyn, but take him out of the equation and others such Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren and Vernon Philander look simply good, rather than menacing.

India have firmly resisted the temptation to take any knee-jerk line-up decisions. Yuvraj Singh, who sat out the previous game with back spasms, was on the mend and took part in the indoor net session, but a decision on whether he will play will not be made until before the toss on Wednesday.

Now India have to show that their No 1 ranking is not only a result of playing plenty of cricket at home. The fact they have won in England, in the Champions Trophy, beating all comers in a variety of conditions, and gotten the better of the West Indies away, points to ability. South Africa, who lost at home to both New Zealand and West Indies, have brought their A game.

Even if India do not win, they must show that they are fully capable of competing.

Rohit Sharma not on tour to ‘have fun’

Rohit Sharma is only 26, but he has already seen plenty of what a life lived in cricket entails.

Branded the next big thing as a teenager from the Bombay school of batsmanship, Rohit was squeezed into an India one-day international batting line-up bursting with ability. When at first Rohit did not succeed, some patience was shown before he was dropped from the squad for the 2011 World Cup, which India went on to win.

That hurt, but as much as people questioning his ability, Rohit went back to the drawing board, worked hard on his fitness and regained form. Few players have been given the chances that Rohit has received, but India’s persistence paid off.

A 209 in an ODI was followed by a sensational Test debut, in which he rattled off 177 at Eden Gardens and a fighting rearguard 111 not out in Mumbai. To say Rohit was in the form of his life when he landed in South Africa would not be an exaggeration. Yet, in both ODIs, runs have eluded him – and the team.

“In the last two games, we obviously didn’t bat well, which is why we lost,” he said. “There is no excuse of being short on match practice or something. We have been playing continuously in the last three months or so, and we just need to be aware of our shot selection.”

Rohit said the team was keen to prove a point on Wednesday after two crushing defeats.

“Of course we are here to compete and not have fun and just look around South Africa,” he said. “Since the day we arrived here, we wanted to prove a point. We know exactly what we need to do to win this game. The bowlers will have to step up, the batsmen will have to step up. We need to get together, and be in their faces right from ball one.”

Anand Vasu is the managing editor of WisdenIndia