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India leave it late on spinners call

10 October 2015

India's brains trust - Kohli, Dhoni and Shastri - consult at training // Getty

Suneer Chowdhary, in Mumbai


Suneer Chowdhary, in Mumbai


A last-minute pitch inspection will decide the make-up of India's team with questions over their slow-bowling and middle order

India could play three spinners in the opening ODI against South Africa as they seek to extend a perceived advantage against a strong Proteas team.

India skipper MS Dhoni was playing his cards close to his chest on the eve of the opening match, however, and said the side would delay a decision until a last-minute pitch inspection before the first clash of a five-match series.

India traditionally turns out batting-friendly ODI pitches but Dhoni expects the Green Park surface in Kanpur to assist slow bowling, reckoning the surface is soft underneath.

Quick Single: India spin has de Villiers on the defensive

"They've watered it a bit. It's still a bit soft, because it's hot over here. We've to see before maybe leaving the stadium, or before the start of the game, how exactly it will look," Dhoni said ahead of Sunday night's first of a five-match ODI series.

"This is one venue we can (play multiple spinners). We'll have a look at the wicket, how dry it is, and the chances of it breaking up and assisting the spinners.

"But definitely, with no dew, three spinner option is available to us."

The preceding T20 series that South Africa won 2-0 with the third match washed out saw the hosts feature Axar Patel along with Ravichandran Ashwin and they also have leg-spinner Amit Mishra waiting in the wings.

De Villiers was bowled by Ashwin twice in the T20 series // Getty

Ashwin has been the leader of the spin pack in recent times for India, while Patel's 18 ODIs have yielded him 23 wickets at 26.6 with an economy-rate of 4.59. Mishra, on the other hand, came back into the Test team for the recently-concluded series against Sri Lanka, picking up 15 wickets in three Tests but hasn't played an ODI in 12 months.

One factor that could work in Dhoni's favour is the change in playing conditions. The new rules allow an extra man outside the fielding circle in the final 10 overs of the innings while the batting powerplay has been abolished.

Not only does it allow India to think strongly about adding an extra slow bowler in their line-up thanks to the added protection, it also makes for death bowling a less troublesome task for a team that has previously had trouble containing batsmen in the final 10 overs.

Dhoni, who was one of the more vociferous critics of the previous rule, has obvious reasons to be relieved with this change.

"Death bowling is something that is very crucial. Of course, the bowlers will get a bit of respite because of the new rules," India's skipper said.

"They'll have that one extra fielder outside, which means they will bowl like a T20 game after the 40th over, with that extra fielder outside. To some extent, that will help them out."

Another problem area for India is the No.6 role of middle-order finisher, with Ambati Rayudu expected to be called upon.

India have the likes of Stuart Binny, Rayudu and Ajinkya Rahane in their squad. The latter of that trio played in India's World Cup campaign, yet it was Rayudu who was picked in the T20s against South Africa – and failed to open his account in both games.

Dhoni, however, believes Rahane is better-suited to a role in the top three, while acknowledging it's difficult to pick players for that position based on their performance in T20 cricket.

Ambati Rayudu appears favoured in the middle order // Getty

"If you're talking about the No.6 or No.7 spot, you can't really pick one depending on their T20 performance, because you don't get to play the way you're supposed to play in an ODI," Dhoni said.

"Even if they would have got a chance to bat, it would have been very difficult for us to pick one of the three, who would have batted at that number," Dhoni said.

"And also, if you see in the last few series we've played, we always felt that Rahane is somebody who should bat more up the order. Batting down at five, six, seven, he'll face more difficulties.

"We've seen he's more flamboyant, more free, when he bats up the order. Once he gets a good start, then he capitalise in the middle overs also.

"It's slightly difficult for him as of now, especially if I am looking for somebody to bat (in the middle order).

"I don't think he's the person to bat there. His strength is more top of the order. Given a chance, we'll try to feature him in the top three, but if not, he'll find it difficult to feature."