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India-South Africa ODI: Why not open the bowling with spin at Wankhede

With Indian seamers taking only one wicket with the new ball in this series, there's merit to open the bowling with spinner Harbhajan Singh from one end, writes Aakash Chopra

Win the toss, bat first and win the game. That's how the first four games in the ongoing India-South Africa ODI series have panned out. Every time the captain who won the toss elected to bat first and irrespective of the total on the board, his team won. South Africa faltered in pursuit of a below-par score in Indore and India followed suit in Rajkot. Bowlers have won all four games in a series that was touted as a clash between two batting heavyweights.

Also read: 4th ODI - We will go all out to beat SA, says Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh (centre) celebrates a South African wicket with teammates Suresh Raina and Axar Patel in Chennai on Thursday. Pic/AFP
Harbhajan Singh (centre) celebrates a South African wicket with teammates Suresh Raina and Axar Patel in Chennai on Thursday. Pic/AFP

Advantage batting first
Will that be the case in Mumbai too today? If South Africa is asked to chase, the outcome is likely to be the same again. After Duminy's departure, their team is heavily dependent on AB de Villiers when it comes to batting in the second innings and it's almost impossible for an individual to accomplish a run-chase alone.

India, on the other hand, is peaking just at the right time. With everyone, barring Dhawan, having scored runs in the series, India is primed to win the last one and take the series. The only concern for the hosts is their ever-changing batting order, for that's confusing the job description for every player.

Also, there's a small matter of finishing the innings — something India haven't been able to do perfectly in this series. India were fortunate that not hitting a single boundary off the last 28 balls didn't cost them the game in Chennai but that might not be the case in Mumbai.

The start and finish are two very important components of an ODI innings and, unfortunately, India is lagging behind in both. With regards to the Indian bowling, there's a strong case to open the bowling with a spinner, for Indian seamers have taken only one wicket with the new ball in this series and that too was more of a batsman's misfortune of hitting a long-hop straight to the fielder at square-leg.

Usually it's taken only a couple of overs of spin to break the South African opening partnership and hence there's merit to get Harbhajan from one end with the new ball itself.

SA's biggest concern
South Africa's biggest problem has been the loss to two key players in the form of Duminy and Morkel. While it's possible to get an able replacement for Morkel, it's almost impossible to find a player who could bowl and bat like Duminy. Also, his absence means they are forced to bring in a coloured player to fulfill the colour-quota in the playing XI.

Since Dhoni isn't playing Test cricket anymore, today will be his last appearance for a while and he would like to make it count — both as a batsman and captain. There have been question marks over his hitting abilities and also, his indecision about the batting order. A win in Mumbai to win the series is critical to keep the naysayers at bay; at least for the time being.

Five
Number of wickets claimed by Harbhajan Singh in the ongoing series vs SA

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