With their backs against the wall, MS Dhoni-led India will take on South Africa in the third and final T20 International in the three-match series at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on 8 October.
The Indian team, who lost two consecutive games in the T20 series, has been rattled by a rampaging South African brigade that has beaten their opponents in almost every facet of the game. Barring a few notable individual performances, the Indian team has largely been affected by the failure of their star-players to perform under pressure.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who bagged four wickets while conceding 50 runs in the two games so far, has been the only silver lining for the hosts who will be playing for more than just pride against the Proteas at the Eden Gardens later in the day. The 3rd T20 may have been rendered inconsequential, but Dhoni will be aware of the importance of a win today ahead of the five-match ODI series starting from 11 October.
India need team players who can step up their game especially at a time when others are struggling. While it's not really hard to predict today's winner considering the recent performances of the two teams, here's a look at the five Indian players whose contributions might lift their team to a maiden win in the ongoing series:
Ever since making his debut in 2011, Ajinkya Rahane has been a vital cog in the Indian batting order. The right-handed batsman has already amassed over 1700 runs in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) with 10 fifties and two hundreds. His presence in the team provides more teeth to the Indian middle-order that has failed to negate the South African bowlers so far in the series. Though it will be interesting to see whether Dhoni uses Rahane at the top order or at the usual number five slot, but his availablity in the team will surely bring the long-lost stability in the batting department.
India's frontline spinner Ravichandran Ashwin is the only player who has looked convincing for the hosts in the ongoing series. The off-spinner has already taken four wickets at the expense of 50 runs in the two games so far. While his companion in the spin department, Axar Patel, was hammered by the opposition batsmen, Ashwin continued to trouble the Proteas with his flight and loop to keep their batsmen in check. With the Eden Gardens strip expected to be a spinner's paradise, Ashwin will be eager to prolong his fine form to help the hosts pull one back against the visitors.
India's Test captain Virat Kohli has been a key contributor to the success of his side in the recent years. The Delhi lad played a second fiddle to Rohit Sharma's heroics at Dharamsala to guide India to a competitive total of 199 runs. He was also part of the 138-run partnership for the second wicket that laid the foundation of India's early assault against the Proteas. However, the right-hander missed out in the 2nd T20 at Cuttack after a mix-up with Rohit in the middle. With the scores of 43 & 1 in the series so far, Kohli will be eager to come out all guns blazing in the final T20 where India has nothing to lose.
India got a major boost when its trusted captain MS Dhoni returned into the side after a span of three months to lead the challenge against South Africa. However, against the popular perception, the Indian skipper failed to get his side over the line as the hosts were left red-faced while trailing 0-2 in the three-match series. As much as his leadership eluded Team India's cause, Dhoni's mediocre performance with the bat only added to his team's misery. In the two games so far, Dhoni has scored a mere 25 runs and looked far from the finisher he once was. The Indian captain needs to step up his game to accelerate India's innings at the death overs and that's exactly what he would be looking to do at the Eden Gardens today.
Rohit Sharma gave India a breathtaking start in the 1st T20 with his explosive knock of 106 runs in Dharamsala. However, AB de Villiers (51) and JP Duminy (68*) stole his thunder as South Africa romped to an emphatic six-wicket win over a shell-shocked India. Even if India lost the game, Rohit's contribution cannot be overlooked and the fans were hoping to see the right-hander continue his assault on the opposition bowlers in the 2nd T20. But the Indian batsman could only muster 22 runs before being run-out by David Miller as the Indian batting-order came down crashing like a pack of cards. Eager to put his bad performances behind, Rohit would be looking to get on top of his game as India chase the elusive win against the in-form South Africans.