South Africa primed to topple hosts India in their backyard

© BCCI

The pattern almost changed in the third match. Teams winning the toss have opted to chase in the India-South Africa ODIs and the trend continued on Friday (March 12), thanks to Lizelle Lee and some rain.

For once, the side batting first put a total in excess of 200, almost 250. One of India’s concerns ahead of the fourth ODI on Sunday would be the form of Jemimah Rodrigues. She has three single digit figures so far including her sixth ODI duck. The hosts would want to iron out that chink in their armoury and it would be interesting to see if they push Rodrigues down the order and shunt Punam Raut, who’s in form, to the top. Only once has Rodrigues batted at no.3 in ODIs – on her debut in 2018.

The other option India have is to try Priya Punia at the top. She’s had success as an opener and scored a half century on ODI debut against the same opponents in 2019.

Another strategy India will need to address – not immediately but gradually in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup next year – is their batting prowess down the order. Mithali Raj, the ODI captain, admitted that the lower-order power-hitting and the resultant acceleration at the death has to be looked at. Harmanpreet Kaur and Deepti Sharma added 60 for the fifth wicket, and while the former was in the middle, India looked prime to go well past 250.

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“Even when I got out, Punam and Harman’s partnership, and then Deepti’s partnership – each time I thought, ‘Okay, you know, I think this partnership is going to stay till the end’. But we lost wickets. That’s where we fell 20-30 runs short,” Raj had said in the post-match presentation.

“We are looking at competing with the best – like the Australia and the England sides, so clearly we are looking at 270-plus,” she then said at the post-match press interaction.

“We are also trying to work on the players to build a sort of game plan for future series and those will become important in terms of how we are going to plan for the World Cup and what are the things we need to work on. It’s going to be a process, yes, and we have started on it. It’s important we have the batters playing the last ten overs and a settled batter will be very, very helpful in those times. We do have players like Harman and Deepti; it’s just a matter of a few innings. They will come good in those death overs.”

Mansi Joshi, who bowled well in the second match, had an off day in the third and went for 43 in her five overs. Whether the home team continues with her or opts to bring back Monica Patel remains to be seen. However, India’s spinners have found little success in the series so far, with Poonam Yadav remaining wicketless in three successive matches. Although Raj brushed it aside as not being an area of concern immediately, the young players waiting in the wings like Radha Yadav, who is yet to make her ODI debut, and Pratyusha Challaru, the leg-spinning allrounder who’s in her maiden stint with the national side, could be hopeful of a match.

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In the South African dugout, the worries would be far less, given that they’ve managed to win without some of their regulars in stand-in captain Sune Luus, wicketkeeper-batter Trisha Chetty and Nadine de Klerk, the allrounder. The signs of Laura Wolvaardt the skipper are quite positive, even though she couldn’t have a massive impact with the bat. Luus, who’d missed the third ODI due to a stomach bug, will be expected to return to her role on Sunday. Whether the tourists choose to push Anneke Bosch, the allrounder who dismissed Raj as her first international victim, back to the bench remains to be seen.

Lee, who struck her third ODI ton, said that she would be aiming to get consistent with her returns and that could only spell trouble for the hosts. In the first ODI, the South Africa opener scored an unbeaten 83 to lead their run-chase and fell early in the second game. South Africa’s middle order, too, looks strong with Mignon du Preez and Lara Goodall contributing in the series and it could be Marizanne Kapp’s day if she gets back to run-scoring business on Sunday.

The unforeseen inclement weather on Friday has made “Lucknow weather” one of the more searched things over the last couple of days. And as it was before that phase, the weather is expected to be sunny. Will there be another surprise in store for Sunday?

South Africa yet again have their noses in front as they are within a win of achieving a series win in India. Will India be able to prevent that?

Squads

India: Mithali Raj (c), Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Punam Raut, Priya Punia, Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), D. Hemalatha, Deepti Sharma, Sushma Verma (wk), Swetha Verma (wk), Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Poonam Yadav, C. Prathyusha, Monica Patel

South Africa: Sune Luus (c), Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta, Tasmin Britz, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch, Faye Tunnicliffe, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune

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