South Africa in India, 4th ODI: Can Dhoni's return to Chennai inspire a series-levelling performance?

South Africa head to south India for the first time on this tour as Chennai gets ready to welcome the much-maligned, albeit recently-resurrected Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. There is no other stadium in India where Dhoni will feel more at home than the MA Chidambaram Stadium — one that he has turned into a fortress during his time as the leader of Chennai Super Kings. It is in these familiar surroundings that he will lead his men against South Africa in the must-win fourth match of the Freedom ODI series.

And if Dhoni and the Indian team did not have enough to worry about with their on-field performance, which has seen them win only one of five matches played on tour so far, the controversy surrounding Amit Mishra only makes things more complicated. The leg-spinner has been in excellent rhythm, but allegations of physical abuse by a woman and a pending summons from the Bengaluru police are a cloud over his selection for the ODI.

 South Africa in India, 4th ODI: Can Dhonis return to Chennai inspire a series-levelling performance?

Will Amit Mishra feature in the fourth ODI? AFP

Harbhajan Singh indicated that Mishra is fully available for selection, but whether Dhoni decides to keep him away from public scrutiny remains to be seen. In which case, Gurkeerat Singh could be in for a debut, given that it is likely Dhoni will stick to the combination of two fast bowlers and three spinners. While the bowling could be weakened by that move, Gurkeerat could be a welcome batting option lower down the order, as he had a good run at this venue with Rahul Dravid’s India A side recently.

While the pre-series talk was about how India’s bowling attack will hold up against the might of the South African batting lineup, it’s the batsmen who have struggled in the three matches so far. Except for a few bright individual sparks, the Indian batting has struggled click into a collective gear. Rohit Sharma is in the middle of a limited-overs purple patch and has looked in great touch every time he has come out to bat against South Africa so far.

India’s problem, however, is that Rohit’s position at the top of the order is the only slot that is not up for any kind of debate. Is it time to give Shikhar Dhawan a break? Will Ajinkya Rahane — with two half-centuries at No 3 — be preferred at the one-down berth over Virat Kohli, who returned to form himself with a half-century when promoted in Rajkot? Should Dhoni promote himself up the order again and hope the struggling Suresh Raina finds some form? Can India ever find the right answer to the ‘bowler who can bat at No 7’ riddle?

Some of these questions will be answered on Thursday, but the exact batting lineup is anyone’s guess. Reading into Dhoni’s post-match assessments about the batting order has proved futile, but as we saw in Rajkot, shuffling the batting order is not helping India’s cause.

South Africa, for their part, will be weakened by injuries as they prepare to go all-out for a series win. Man of the match in the third ODI, Morne Morkel is a doubt with a dead leg, while JP Duminy has been ruled out of the series with a finger injury. Duminy’s injury could mean a return to the middle order for David Miller. Meanwhile, Hashim Amla, who has struggled for runs so far, could go back to opening the innings.

In the nine completed matches involving India at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk, the home team has lost four and won five matches. MAC Stadium, seemingly, has not been a happy hunting ground for India in ODIs. The last ODI in the venue was a day match against Pakistan in 2012 which India lost after being put into bat under overcast conditions and losing the top five batsmen in the first 10 overs. Dhoni, first with Raina and then with Ashwin, resurrected the innings with a fantastic century that ultimately proved to be in vain.

It is fair to say Chepauk, on Thursday, in the October heat will not be anything like that day in December when the Pakistan seamers wrecked India. The pitch in Chennai will, in all likelihood, be a traditional slow, low, turning track — the kind that Dhoni loves to exploit with multiple spinners in the side.

With all these questions swirling around the team composition, Dhoni will find comfort within the familiar humid confines of MAC Stadium across the Marina Beach. The ‘knowledgeable’ Chennai crowd, aware of the fact that Dhoni might not be seen in CSK’s yellow in Chepauk for a while, will be fully behind the home team and a few of their favourite sons in Dhoni, Raina and Mohit Sharma.

One thing is certain: Neither team will want to chase after winning the toss, given the way this series has panned out so far.

Updated Date: Oct 22, 2015 11:18:06 IST