Kolkata: Fans don't 'dig' a dead rubber, and it's showing in this cricket-crazy city's general lack of enthusiasm for the final T20 International against South Africa. For the two teams, however, there will still be a lot to play for when the lights come on at the Eden Gardens today.
Virat Kohli (second from left) shares a light moment with teammates during a practice session at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata yesterday. Pics/PTI
An ideal preparation
The Proteas, having wrapped up the series with wins at Dharamsala and Cuttack, will want to sweep it for, among other things, a nice confidence-boosting backdrop to their World T20 campaign next year. While that mega event is still months away, this series is very much on the run-up to it and it is throwing up more questions than answers for the hosts.
The two losses have had different tenors to them, India's bowling unit failing to defend a decent total in Dharamsala and the batsmen floundering in the second encounter. India have more holes than one to plug as they look to add respectability to the series scoreline.
To start with, they have allowed the advantages of the batting 'powerplay to go abegging, losing wickets and unable to generate the momentum so crucial in the shortest format of the game. Maybe, it's time to tinker. Harbhajan Singh, sent to the pre-match media interaction, said he is not in the know but is Team India thinking of trying out a few things?
One of them can be to try out a different opening combo. Even if it doesn't lead to a permanent solution, it will at least send the message that the openers cannot pass on run-rate pressure to the middle-overs. The lack of ideas and desperation that gripped the Indian batsmen in Cuttack revealed a new vulnerability that is creeping in.
South Africa pacer Kyle Abbott bowls at the Eden nets yesterday
Maybe, it has something to do with MS Dhoni slipping from his authoritative self. The skipper needs to lead from the front again. Dhoni has scored 25 in the two games while Virat Kohli followed up his 43 in Dharamsala with 1 in Cuttack. If these two senior pros fire today, South Africa will be denied a clean sweep
The bright spot
While the bowling unit has been below par, the big bright spot has been the performance of Ravichandran Ashwin. The off-spinner has not just shown great skill but has delivered with a command that is likely to impact the ODI and the Test series that follow. His near-complete dominance of AB de Villiers, arguably the best batsman in the world today, has been a highlight of T20 bowling.
Ashwin has also exposed the Proteas' vulnerability to quality spin. It's just as well that Harbhajan stepped up in Cuttack to lend credence to that growing belief. At his happy hunting ground, Bhajji will be hoping to do more.
While South Africa, despite the quality of Imran Tahir, will bank on their seam-up bowlers, the tenor of India's attack will surely be spin. On a fresh Eden wicket, the hosts will be hoping they can match the Proteas when it comes to bowling to a plan.
"We are determined to make it 3-0. Momentum and confidence is a big thing in international cricket," David Miller spelt out intent with one eye on the rest of the tour. Rohit Sharma's class as a batsman was never in doubt; it's time now for him to take charge more often. He and Kohli can together give India the platform to take off from. Dhoni needs to be more assertive — both as a leader of men and as a finisher.