Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
Not for the first time, India’s most important match of a tournament is being played at its proverbial “home of cricket”. The Wankhede Stadium, also the scene of India’s greatest ODI triumph in the World Cup Final of 2011, will play host to the decider in what has been a pulsating and see-saw bilateral series between arguably two of the top three teams in limited-overs cricket.
Between the two teams, viewers across stadiums in India have gotten to watch the three best batsmen in the world – AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Hashim Amla – over four competitive ODI games in which the chasing team is yet to record a win. That’s perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps it’s the sign of changing times (or weather) in a country that has seen some of the highest-recorded chases in recent history. India has bounced back twice after being down in the series, and despite some wobbles and out-of-form players, they’ve managed to take the Proteas down to the final match.
Let’s take a look at the two teams and their performances for the final:
The brittle middle order was exposed and exploited by the South Africans in the first ODI, despite Rohit Sharma’s riveting 150. Fortunately, the bowlers stepped up their game in the second match, making MS Dhoni’s 92 become a match-winning back-against-the-wall innings after defending a score of less than 250. In the third match at Kanpur, South Africa’s 270 turned out to be a winning total, with the Indians once again choking after a solid start. By now, Suresh Raina had scored only 3 runs in 3 matches, and India were hurting because of Dhoni’s inability to finish games more consistently. Despite making only a paltry 69 runs in the last 10 overs in the fourth ODI at Chennai, Virat Kohli’s epic 138 took them to 299, and made AB de Villier’s heroic one-man-army century come up short against an inspired spinning trio. The South Africans’ inability to play spin after good starts is now a glaring weakness. The fifth ODI at the Wankhede will bring to a close the Proteas’ long limited-over tour, before the four-match test series begins soon. The pitch there is known to favor first inning scores of around 270-280, but the way this series has gone, you never really know. It’s hot, humid, searing and particularly unbearable for October, and the temperatures have hit new records this year, which is sure to have an effect on the players and the pitch. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane will be playing at their home ground, and looking to make a final impact in colors.
However, India’s only concern right now is Shikhar Dhawan’s lack of form at the top, because even Raina came good at Chennai with a brisk half century. And number 5 is perhaps where he should bat, with Dhoni having to force himself to come at 6 and look even more clueless in the end overs. His power hasn’t been serving him well, and he has clearly needed time out in the middle overs before making something substantial.
X-Factor: Rohit Sharma. He has looked consistently dangerous at the top, though he has gotten out to some careless shots over the series. He will want to add one more century to his tally, if nothing, only to cash in on his sparkling form.
Hashim Amla hasn’t been among the runs, but AB de Villiers, their captain and resident genius, has scored two centuries this series – both brilliant, mesmerizing, counter-attacking knocks of high quality. Faf du Plessis has also been consistent, but has struggled a bit against the three spinners. De Kock is back in form too against his favorite bowling attack, but David Miller at the top hasn’t quite reaped any rewards yet. No JP Duminy and Morne Morkel meant that they couldn’t fight back in Chennai, and both their batting and bowling have been considerably weakened. Imran Tahir hasn’t been as successful against the Indians, and they will be wary of the momentum being with the home team. AB has done his best to lead a team still finding their feet after some retirements last year, but they’ve not quite fulfilled the potential of being the team with the best batsman and bowler in their side.
X-Factor: David Miller. If he gets going, it could all be over for the Indians in less than 10 overs. He is yet to hit his stride, and perhaps another batting order shuffle could help him regain confidence against the spinners. Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra have had the best of him so far.
India for the win. Both teams are flawed, and haven’t been playing the best possible cricket, but they’ve fought each other well, and given viewers’ their money’s worth with a well-paced battle.