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Sidharth Monga in Port Elizabeth
January 20, 2011
India came here as a potential threat to South Africa's proud home record, but while people would have expected the result in Tests, it comes as a surprise that for the second time on the tour India find themselves one match away from winning a series. It didn't happen in the Tests, although 1-1 was a hugely creditable result, but in the ODIs they have two chances to become only the third side to win a bilateral series in South Africa.
They have come close without the services of key players; something they have become used to in limited-over series. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Praveen Kumar have played no part in the series, and Sachin Tendulkar went home after the second game.
On the eve of the fourth ODI, MS Dhoni said his side was approaching the game the same way as any other. "The mood is the same," he said. "When we lost the first game, we felt it was very important to keep a positive state of mind throughout the series. We play so many games, so our mood and mental state cannot fluctuate too much. We always concentrate on the process, and don't really see what the scorecard is saying or what the series position is. We are not thinking about anything right now. We just need to make sure that we don't repeat all the wrong things that we have done so far in the tournament. That will be our focus."
One of the big positives from this series for India has been the way the spinners have performed on tracks that, in theory, should be less helpful than the ones in the subcontinent. Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni said, "is bowling as well as you have seen him bowl through his career", and the part-timers are "a big plus for us".
"Harbhajan has done really well. We are using him regularly in the Powerplay and have used him even before the 10th over." Harbhajan has gone for just 3.82 runs an over in the first three games.
Dhoni said the reasons for the improvement in Harbhajan's form could be a mix of conditions and batsmen's attitude. "If the batsmen are successful, we tend to turn around and say maybe the bowler is not bowling well, but sometimes it may just be that the batsmen are playing really well.
"Some of the Indian tracks are too flat to do anything on. The batsmen have the momentum from the very start. If they get off to a good start, then once you bring the spinner on, it is a 50-50 scenario. They go after the spinners. If in the first few overs they are able to apply some pressure, then the spinner is on the back foot. A lot depends on where you are playing, and how the batsmen are coping with you."
Dhoni is also pleased with the work the other spinners have put in. "Along with him, the part-timers are doing a real good job, and of course the team composition allows me to have a few more part-timers than we would [with a full-strength squad]. Virender Sehwag is not bowling regularly, if Gautam Gambhir is part of the side he doesn't bowl, and we are not using Sachin Tendulkar that much, but because of their absence we are featuring players who can contribute with the ball. It gives me the liberty of using even eight bowlers in one innings."
Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh have combined to bowl 40 overs over the three ODIs played so far and have taken five wickets between them.
That, though, doesn't undermine the importance of the three big batsmen when they are back. "We will have to use the resources that are part of the side at that point of time. If you see the best batting line-up the Indian team has, Viru will be part of it, so will Sachin and Gautam, which means we will have maybe just two part-timers in the side. The surprise element of who is going to bowl from the other end won't be there, because I won't have so many options. But still they are the best batting line-up, and they will feature, that's why we need to perform with the bat more than the ball."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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