As much as one insists on treating them as entities of mere academic importance, statistics do find a way to narrate a tale, more so, when the context is of an Indian side about to play a One-Day International (ODI) series in the Rainbow Nation. The numbers, to put it plainly, are stark; too lopsided to ignore, too telling to dismiss. They read 6-0 in favour of South Africa at Kingsmead, Durban. One match ended as ‘no result’.
While Indian fans would remember an Ashish Nehra special under lights in Durban against England about 15 years back, it’s worth noting that each of India’s last three adventures at this venue have resulted in morale-shattering losses. The last meeting between India and South Africa here, in 2013, ended in a 134-run thrashing of the visitors; the one before that, in 2011, resulted in 135-run mauling, and the one before, in 2006, brought about a 157-run humiliation.
From the current squad, only battle-hardened Mahendra Singh Dhoni has witnessed the slaughter in each of the three occasions. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have been part of the drubbing twice, but more importantly, India’s bowling artillery – barring Mohammed Shami – is yet to play an ODI in South Africa. While that obviously amounts to lack of experience for the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel, it also means freedom from the ghosts of history.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah, two of India’s bowling stars from the preceding Test series, would once again be summoned to put a check on the South African batsmen early in their innings. Wrist-spinners were the flavour of India’s post-Champions Trophy success in 2017, but it would be interesting to see who among Chahal and Kuldeep, if not both, get a game in seamer-friendly Durban.
Among batsmen, the onus would, once again, be on India’s top-order to deliver. Shikhar Dhawan’s technique, or lack of it, in seaming conditions is well-documented, but the left-hander has always found a way to score heavily in ODIs. Rohit Sharma, who scored his third ODI double hundred in the last limited-overs series he played, would also be eager to make amends for his poor run in Tests.
But here’s the catch: Dhawan averages a royal six in South Africa, and Rohit 12.28, easily their poorest among all countries they have been to. Kohli averages a respectable 45.57 there, but that’s still 10 runs below his career average and second lowest among all countries he has batted in. What’s more, his strike rate of 77.61 in South Africa is the slowest among all nations he has played in. This leaves India with a rather fragile top-order, making the crucial No 4 spot open for a thorough examination.
India’s inconsistencies with the two-down slot have been of common knowledge over the past couple of seasons, but if Kohli’s indications can be taken on face value, Ajinkya Rahane may get a look-in on Thursday. Kedar Jadhav, Dhoni and Hardik Pandya complete a destructive lower-middle order. In five of their six losses in Durban, India have batted second, which means apart from scoreboard pressure, they had to make do with the extra zing Kingsmead unearths under lights. Perhaps Kohli would need his share of luck to get to bat first on Thursday.
Despite the 1-2 loss in the Test series, India showed they can run South Africa close. The visitors had their chances in every Test, but by the time they finally took theirs in Johannesburg, the series was gone. The team would look to ride the momentum the memorable win in last Test has generated, and end the Durban voodoo. With World Cup just 14 months away, India would look to hit their stride. Kingsmead will not be a bad place to start.
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