Six days ago when the Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela series began, one would have surely anticipated the South Africans to come hard at the Indian brigade but the visitors taking an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-match T20 series was definitely shocking, at least for the home fans.
On one hand where the Indian team paid dearly for their bowling conundrum in the 1st T20 at Dharamsala, the second game in Cuttack saw the Indian batting crumble like cookies for a mere 92 runs. In both games, the Indians clearly lacked the will to win against a rampaging South African brigade a song away from home.
The 3rd T20 may have been rendered inconsequential, but the Indian team will be eager to salvage some pride against the visitors to gain the much-needed momentum before the five-match ODI series scheduled to begin from 11 October commences.
As MS Dhoni-led India prepares to pull one back against the South Africans, here's a look at five things the hosts need to take into account ahead of the 3rd T20 in Kolkata:
Winning the toss
MS Dhoni might have won 26 tosses in his 51 T20 Internationals as Indian captain, but the 'Captain Cool' has failed to win the toss in his last five games, including the recent two against the Proteas. The last time Dhoni won a toss in a T20 game was back in 2014 against Bangladesh.
Faf du Plessis won the toss in both the T20s that saw India failing miserably in defending their total. The visitors have looked more comfortable chasing the total and that's exactly why India need to break the monotony by asking the South Africans to bat first. The Indian team boasts a formidable record chasing, especially at home. Their run-chase of 359 runs against Australia in 2013 is the fourth highest innings total batting second.
Bowling first will also allow the Indian batsmen to pace their innings in the game. It's time Dhoni finds his mojo back and brings the opposition out of their comfort zone to script a turnaround in the 72-day tour.
Running between the wickets
Amongst the numerous reasons for India's dismal show in the first two games, their running between the wickets has only added to the misery. The South Africans, who are comparatively more athletic than their counterparts, have exploited India's poor running and dubious calls in the recent matches. Not only a run-out results in a wicket, but it also keeps the opposition batsmen in check which often leads to a dip in the scoring-rate.
India have lost four wickets, two in each of the T20s played so far, to run-outs in the series. The timing of the run-outs in both the games also hampered India's momentum in the game while allowing the visitors to take control in hostile territory. The Indian skipper has also voiced his discomfort on the lack of communication between the batsmen in the middle. Going into the 3rd T20, India need to be wary of such unwanted dismissals against South Africa who will be looking to finish the T20 series on a high.
Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan has failed to repay the faith of his captain MS Dhoni in the two T20s so far. After being selected ahead of another high-impact player Ajinkya Rahane, the Delhi southpaw has rarely looked threatening against the likes of Kyle Abbott, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris. The left-handed batsman has scored a mere 14 runs in his two innings against the Proteas.
On the other hand, Ajinkya Rahane has proved his mettle at the opening slot for India in the past. Also, his success as an opener for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League only make the case more compelling. Rahane was also pivotal with his knock of 79 runs as India registered their first win against South Africa in a World Cup match. It's high time Dhoni makes the much-needed change to strengthen the struggling top-order.
Amit Mishra for Axar Patel
MS Dhoni's faith in Axar Patel has also failed to serve India in the two T20 matches so far. The left-handed spinner conceded a vital 22 runs in the 16th over that changed the outcome of 1st T20 in South Africa's favour. The bowling all-rounder, who mainly relies on his line and length to pick up a wicket, has conceded 62 runs with just one wicket in the two matches so far.
While Axar has suffered for bowling faster ones, Amit Mishra's flight and loop might turn out to be the weapon India has been looking for. Also, with the Eden Gardens strip expected to be a spinner's paradise, playing Mishra in place of Axar can very well help the hosts to curb the South Africans' strokeplay on a surface which may not be conducive to batting.
Stuart Binny for Ambati Rayudu
After ending up on the losing side despite scoring 199 runs in the 1st T20, the Indian batting failed miserably in the 2nd T20 as South Africa chased the paltry total of 92 runs with six wickets to spare. The middle-order has struggled to survive the pressure and Ambati Rayudu at the number 5 or 6 spot is definitely a bad choice. The right-hander, who got out for golden ducks in the two matches, has been all at sea against the Proteas.
MS Dhoni would surely be toying with the idea of giving Stuart Binny try in the 3rd T20 in Kolkata. Binny is capable of handling pressure and playing the big shots in desperate times. Apart from batting, Binny can also fix the bowling conundrum for Dhoni who could surely use some variety in what otherwise appears to be an ordinary attack.
India: MS Dhoni (c/wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Axar Patel, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Amit Mishra, Stuart Binny and S Aravind
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abott, Albie Morkel, Imran Tahir, Quninto de Kock, Eddie Leie, Marchant de Lange and Kyaya Zondo