Indore: Facing the toughest phase of his cricketing life, an underfire Mahendra Singh Dhoni will seek to revive his career and change the fortunes of a dispirited Indian team when the hosts take on an unbeaten South Africa in the second cricket one-dayer here tomorrow.
India are yet to taste victory since South Africa's arrival in the country, having lost two Twenty20 Internationals (the third one was abandoned) before suffering a close five-run defeat in the first ODI.
Indian cricketers during a practice session on the eve of second ODI. Pic/ PTI
With critics gunning for his head, Dhoni, in particular, finds himself in very challenging situation. The year 2015 has not been a particularly happy one for Dhoni after the semi-final loss in the World Cup.
The loss in the IPL final was followed by the humiliation in Bangladesh in the ODI series and the T20Is against Proteas proved to be yet another no-contest. His own form has been patchy and 'Dhoni the batsman' evidently does not strike fear in the hearts of bowlers anymore.
It seems Dhoni, the ultimate finisher, has lost somewhere. In the first ODI in Kanpur, it was an ideal platform for the Indian skipper to get back to his critics but he faltered in the botched chase. With India needing 11 runs off the last over, the stage was set for Dhoni to finish off, as he has done many a times in the past, but the 'Captain Cool' seemed to have lost his big-hitting skills and turned more into an accumulator. During his 30-ball 31, he struck just one boundary.
With the World T20 not too far away, time seems to be running out for Dhoni, the man once considered indispensable in limited overs formats. Come tomorrow, the spotlight solely would be on Dhoni and his leadership skills and the remaining four matches of the ODI series will definitely be a test of character for the Indian captain.
As usual, Indian batting line-up is a formidable one with opener Rohit Sharma in rollicking form. After the sublime ton in the first T20I in Dharamsala, the Mumbai batsman struck a delightful 150 in the lost cause in Kanpur.
But Rohit's opening partner Shikhar Dhawan's form is a cause of concern. He would be looking for a bagful of runs after failing in the T20s and then the first ODI. Returning to the side, Ajinkya Rahane, however, proved his worth with a vital 60 in Kanpur and would be looking to carry forward his good form.
But Dhoni's heir apparent Virat Kohli would be hoping for runs and going by his lofty standards, he would like to take on the challenge against tough opponents like the Proteas to stamp his class once again.
Serious questions marks are also on Suresh Raina and the abilities of Stuart Binny as an all-rounder. But the thing which will worry Dhoni, the captain, most is the performance of his bowlers and the absence of is 'go to man' Ravichandran Ashwin, who has been effectively ruled out of the series with a side strain suffered during the Kanpur match.
The pace duo of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and comeback man Umesh Yadav looked ordinary in front of AB de Villiers and Co. while Binny as usual has failed to prove his worth with the ball as well.
De Villiers, who powered South Africa past the 300-run mark in Kanpur with a 73-ball unbeaten 104, went hammer and tongs as Indian bowlers bled more than 100 runs in the last 10 overs in the first ODI.
The only saving grace for Dhoni and Indian has been the spin duo of Ashwin and leggie Amit Mishra, but with Ashwin now out of at least first three ODIs, this department has also taken a severe beating.
Ashwin's place in the playing eleven is likely to be replaced by veteran Harbhajan Singh, who has been called into the ODI side.
South Africa, on the other hand, are a confident lot and are eyeing their first-ever ODI series win on Indian soil. South African bowling attack looks ominous with the return of speedsters Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn, who were rested in the shortest format.
Young Kagiso Rabada, who impressed in the T20s, proved he belongs to the big stage by keeping a cool head in defending the total in the final over in Kanpur.
Leg-spinner Imran Tahir, as usual, has been De Villiers 'go to man' in crunch situations. The battling unit, led by the dangerous De Villers, looks more ominous than their bowling. De Villiers has already marked his arrival with the smashing ton in Kanpur and his deputy Faf du Plesis too is not far behind, scoring a vital 62.
JP Duminy is in cracking form, so what if he failed in the first ODI. And with the likes of Hashim Amla, David Miller, Quinton de Kock and Farhaan Behardien in the ranks, the Indian bowlers are sure to have another tough day in office.
But going by records, the Holkar Stadium here as been a happy hunting ground for the home team as they have won all their previous high-scoring matches at this venue. India have played three ODIs at the venue and have won all the three ODIs at this 27,000 capacity stadium.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Harbhajan Singh, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh and Amit Mishra.
South Africa: AB De Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf Du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien, Chris Morris, Khaya Zondo, Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada.
Match starts at 1.30 pm (IST).