The rain had been pelting down since the wee hours of Tuesday morning across Johannesburg and even in neighbouring Pretoria. In fact,it hadnt really stopped for good since the time Nelson Mandela breathed his last five days ago. There were traffic-jams across both the financial and administrative capitals of South Africa with most roads leading to the FNB Stadium in Soweto for the official Mandela Memorial. By mid-afternoon the roads,including the N1 route,had begun flooding.
But for once,nobody was complaining. This is Madiba rain, they said.
In South African tradition,when a great man dies,the heavens open up and it will keep raining till the time hes lowered into his final resting place, said another.
The SuperSport Park in Centurion,the venue for the third and final ODI of the series,remained covered in tarpaulin throughout the morning with the teams forced to train within the confines of the indoor-nets. The ground-staff though were taking no chances,braving the rain and setting up their tent,literally,in the middle. The forecast for Wednesday might not have showers in the offing. But with SuperSport Park already having taken a thorough beating over the last couple of days,its famed drainage system will have to rise to the occasionthat is if the Madiba rain decides to stop soon.
In a way,the tour itself has been mired under dark clouds so far for MS Dhonis side. And the sun is yet to really rise as far as the Indians are concerned. The world champions have really not turned up for the series so far,which explains the 2-0 score-line going into the third match.
The third ODI if it does happen might be inconsequential as far as the series is concerned but could have a great bearing on the rest of the tour and possibly the mind-set of the young Indian batting going into the next 12 months,where theyll play more cricket away than at home. For starters,they need to break open the shackles that the South African pace attack have put on them,and for that they need at least one of their batsmen to play an inspirational knock,even if it doesnt get them victory.
That knock,or bowling spell,must be one that tells the entire Indian dressing-room that they can compete and sends the message to the opposition camp that they are not here to just make up the numbers. Like the century Sachin Tendulkar scored right here in Centurion during the last tour,despite India quickly heading towards an innings defeat.
Having said that,the South Africans will not make it any easier for them. They will approach the game with the sole motive of keeping their feet on the Indian throats leading up to the Tests. Here,the time might have come for the Indians to have a relook at their strategy.
It might be difficult considering the boundary-fest that they were a part of during the ODIs against Australia and West Indies back home. But far too often theyve been stuck at one end and rarely have they looked to change the strike with some cleverly disguised tip-and-run. While there has been a lot of talk regarding occupying the crease,they could well resort to rotating the strike more intently and start sharing the pressure in the middle.
None of the Indian batsmen have gotten out fending against the short-ball. Instead theyve gotten out to deliveries that they should have put away ideally because of poor execution of shots,like Dhoni said after the Durban loss. Resulting,of course,from the intense scrutiny theyve been put through by Dale Steyn & Co.
While Steyn has been fiery,the Indians have let him bog them down. Virat Kohli did try forcing the issue and take the fight to the hosts at the Wanderers. It even worked for a while,as he hit the fast man for a few boundaries. But the rest of the Indian top-order,including Rohit Sharma,have allowed the Proteas to bowl wherever they have pleased. Even the likes of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Ryan McLaren have gotten away with bowling a steady line and length.
AB de Villiers had even dropped a hint after the first ODI,insisting that the only way to tackle a fired-up Steyn was to get out of the crease to him. But the Indians werent listening. The top four could only manage 10 runs off the 24 balls they faced from Steyn. More crucially,none of them ever showed the inclination to try anything different to put the pacer off his rhythm.
And the break-free shots have led to their downfall,ensuring that India have lost wickets in a heap. In the first two matches,the top-five have lasted for a total of 213 deliveries off a possible 300. In contrast,the South Africas main batsmen faced 298 and 276 deliveries respectively in Johannesburg and Durban.
There will be no let-ups on Wednesday either if the rain does go away. So far its not their talent that has come under the scanner but instead their intent,or lack of it. And its high time the Indians at least tried to turn the tide.
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