The series win may have gone, but India still have much to play for in their third and final Twenty20 international against South Africa at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens on Thursday. Having narrowly dropped the opening match of the series, India suffered an ignominious six-wicket loss to the visiting Proteas on Monday. Just five months ahead of hosting the ICC World Twenty20, India now badly needs to show some signs of progress to close out the series.
And there is particular pressure on captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The 34-year-old stepped away from the Test captaincy late last year, replaced by Virat Kohli. But there is increasing scrutiny on his continued leadership of the limited-overs sides after overseeing a first ever One-Day series defeat to Bangladesh in June and now the T20 loss on home soil to South Africa.
Last time out in Cuttack, Dhoni managed just five runs as part of what was a record low total for India in T20 matches at home of just 92. South Africa had no trouble passing the mark with 17 balls remaining. Once the most renowned finisher of an innings in world cricket, Dhoni has conceded that he is now being weighed down by the responsibility on his shoulders as part of a middle-order that has struggled in both matches of the series.
“It's slightly difficult in the T20 format because it's so short,” he said, according to The Times of India. “I feel I use too much brain in this format. It's very important I keep myself free and go and play my strokes. A lot of time when I go into bat, be it the 16th or 17th over or in the fourth or fifth over when wickets have fallen down, I have the tendency of thinking 'let's get to 130. That will be a good score' and I play a bit slow.”
Adding to the problems for India, their heavy defeat last time out was interrupted by fans, seemingly angry at the home team’s performance, hurling bottles onto the field and causing a lengthy delay.
The mood, of course, is very different among the tourists. South Africa have never won a world title in any format, but their last two results have provided plenty of belief that they can end that drought back in India next year.
“Momentum and confidence is a big thing in international games,” South Africa batsman David Miller said, reports ESPN. “We came here with a lot of expectation to doing well and put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform. India are an amazing T20 side, they have got some huge players and this [performance in the T20 series] gives us a lot of confidence moving forward coming close to the World T20. We need to take confidence from this and it has been a huge confidence booster.”
Having already wrapped up the T20 series and with an upcoming tour schedule including five ODIs and four Test matches, South Africa could rotate their side in Kolkata. For very different reasons, India may also be tempted to make changes, potentially including the return of batsman Ajinkya Rahane.
Start time: 9:30 a.m. EDT
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