Suresh Raina’s last outing in India colours before the ongoing T20I series against South Africa came almost a year ago at the same opposition. Since then, the 31-year-old has been showcasing his wares in domestic cricket in hopes of an India recall and his persistence was rewarded when he was picked for the T20Is against South Africa.
The Uttar Pradesh-born batsman took the chance to thank skipper Virat Kohli for believing in him in the pre-match press conference ahead of the deciding match at Cape Town.
With India displaying a new gung-ho approach to batting in the 20-over format as evidenced in the two matches so far, Raina described it as a planned strategy.
“Virat (Kohli) showed that faith in me. In the last two games, if you see in the first six overs we dominated their bowlers. In T20 cricket, it is really important to start well in the power-play. We played well in the first two games and I hope we are going to do really well in the decider,” he said.
The left-handed batsman has scored a seven-ball 15 and a 24-ball 30 in the series but has no plans to change his approach to extend his stay at the crease.
“In the first six overs, you need to play your shots. Sometimes you get runs and sometimes you don’t. When you have a lot of batting depth in the middle-order, you need to take a chance and they can execute it later on,” Raina explained.
With a series win on the line for India on Saturday, Raina also touched on the importance of finishing the tour well.
“We all had a word in the team meetings, where we felt we need to finish really well. Virat doesn’t take anything easy, MS(Dhoni) and Ravi (Shastri) gave a lot of inputs as well. When you are playing the decider, it is all about the enjoyment. Go out there and win the game for your country,” he added.
“Virat has led the team well. We did well in Tests and won the ODI series. Dressing room is such that everyone is enjoying this success and the process is such that everyone is giving their inputs to the coach.”
With India’s middle-order still being a sticky point in ODI cricket, Raina was asked if he thought he could work his way back into the number five spot in the batting-order.
“It is important to win a trophy first and important to go out there as a team mindset. If you see the top order, they are all batting well. When you come to the middle order, MS (Dhoni) is there and Manish (Pandey) is also doing a good job,” he replied.
“So we will see where I can fit in. There are a lot of matches coming up now. Winning games is more important than being which format I am playing or not. Every Indian game is very important for me right now.”
The 2011 ICC World Cup winner said that the side was peaking at just the right time for the 2019 edition.
“All the games are very important. Virat has led the team really well, we did really well in the Test matches and won the ODI series (in South Africa) for the first time.”
“The dressing room atmosphere is such that everyone is enjoying their success. It is going to be a very long road from here on. We have one game tomorrow, then the tri-series (Nidahas Cup) and then a lot of matches in the IPL. You need to be fresh, keep winning and keep doing the right processes and stay in the present as we look to win each and every game,” he added.
The two sides return to the venue which kick-started India’s tour of South Africa with the first Test which went the way of the hosts.
Ahead of the all-important clash on Saturday, we look at the key talking points.
INDIA AIM TO FINISH ON HIGH
Their tour started disastrously at the same venue but India have made it one to remember with a 5-1 thrashing of the hosts to capture their maiden ODI series on South African soil.
While a lot of ‘what ifs’ sentiments still remain from the 2-1 defeats in Tests, the overall picture of the tour looks a lot more positive for India with their domination in the limited-overs clashes.
Such has been their dominance that the defeat in the second T20I seems like an aberration in an otherwise unblemished performances in the limited-overs clashes. With a chance to return home with two trophies on the line on Saturday, expect Virat Kohli’s men to come out all guns blazing.
CHAHAL, KULDEEP OR AXAR PATEL
While India’s wrist-spinners were on fire in the ODI series where they picked up 33 wickets between themselves, it hasn’t been the same in the T20Is. It is Yuzvendra Chahal who has been preferred in a lone-spinner’s role in the series up to now but he has been way below par, picking up only the one wicket in two matches.
He was taken for 64 runs in the previous clash, the worst figures for an Indian in the 20-over format and as such, could be dropped for either Kuldeep Yadav or Axar Patel. There also remains the possibility of India lining up with two spinners at Newlands but that will depend on the conditions on offer.
WILL KOHLI GO FOR A PLAN B?
While Chahal was being taken to the cleaners by Heinrich Klaasen at Centurion, Kohli could only look on haplessly. The Indian skipper had decided to go with a five-bowler attack for the match and with Chahal misfiring big time, he was left with no alternative who could bowl the remainder of the leg-spinner’s quota of overs.
With the possibility of one of the five bowlers having an off-day, it is imperative that India have some back-up options in the bowling department. This could mean that Kohli will need to pick five specialist bowlers apart from all-rounder Hardik Pandya. Keeping this in mind, it won’t be a surprise if India indeed lines up with two spinners.
Have long felt that a team must go into a T20 match with about 23-24 overs available to the captain since one bowler is likely to have an off day. India are stuck with 20 at the moment.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) February 21, 2018
SOUTH AFRICA’S CHANCE FOR REDEMPTION
After being on a the receiving end of a 5-1 thrashing in the ODIs, South Africa looked down and out after losing their openers in the chase of 189 in the second T20I. It was only when Klaasen came into bat that the entire momentum of the game shifted in favour of the hosts.
The limited-overs battles have been an eye-opener for the Proteas who have struggled in the absence of their established big names. The emergence of Klaasen and Junior Dala has been one of the very few positives for them. However, a win in the final T20I could ease the heartache of being outplayed in the ODIs.
Having captured the Test series, another win in the T20Is makes the picture much better for the beleaguered hosts.
The hosts came roaring back with a six-wicket win in Centurion to tie the three-match series at 1-1 after the visitors had come on top in the opening match.
With everything to play for, we look at the key battles which could play a pivotal role in deciding Saturday’s outcome.
HEINRICH KLAASEN VS CHAHAL/KULDEEP
Klaasen has only got his chance due to an injury to Quinton de Kock but what a difference he has made. The 26-year-old’s inclusion has come as a blessing in disguise for the hosts with de Kock struggling for runs before his injury.
Klaasen gave a brief glimpse of his potential with some solid cameos in the preceding ODI series and then completely took apart Yuzvendra Chahal in Centurion as he led South Africa to victory. The right-handed wicket-keeper batsman is fast developing a reputation for his fearless brand of cricket.
No matter where Chahal bowled, Klaasen had an answer as he sent the ball flying to all parts of the ground. As the leg-spinner finished with the worst figures for an Indian in T20I cricket, Kohli might be tempted to bring in Kuldeep Yadav instead of him.
Whoever the spinner for India, expect Klaasen to bring the same intent to the table on Saturday.
VIRAT KOHLI VS JUNIOR DALA
The India skipper has had one of the most remarkable tours by any batsman in history with four tons so far in the Test and ODIs. He had a rare failure with the bat at Centurion as he got a snorter of a delivery from Junior Dala to be dismissed for just the one run.
The competitive sportsman that Kohli is, he will no doubt be keen to make amends for that innings and look to close the South Africa tour on a high, both personally and as skipper of the Men In Blue.
Dala on the other hand, has shown some potential in his first two outings in South African colours. The 28-year-old pacer was expensive in the first T20I though he did end up with two wickets.
He was the pick of the bowlers at Centurion with two beautifully crafted wickets of Rohit Sharma and Kohli. His task on Saturday, will be to find the early breakthroughs for the Proteas once again.
REEZA HENDRICKS VS BHUVNESHWAR KUMAR
The South African opening batsman has been in fine form in the two T20Is. The technically correct right-handed batsman has played some exquisite strokes in his two knocks of 70 and 26 so far and has compensated for Jon-Jon Smuts’ lack of form at the other end.
If he can get a start once again on Saturday, it will provide the license to attack for the big hitters like David Miller and Klaasen down the order.
Hence, it will be up to Bhuvneshwar Kumar to prevent Hendricks from getting in. The Indian pacer picked up a maiden five-wicket haul in the opening match and his knack of picking up early wickets will be crucial to the visitors’ hopes.