Kanpur, Oct 10: Having been outplayed in the shortest format, there will be added pressure on captain MS Dhoni to perform and lead India from the front against a formidable South African unit in the five-match ODI cricket series that begins here tomorrow.
It's time for Dhoni to answer his critics as more and more questions are being raised against his captaincy at a juncture where heir apparent and Test captain Virat Kohli is waiting in the wings.
He enters his 'litmus test' having lost the T20 series and an unexpected loss in Bangladesh in June, after which he went out of action for three months. On the face of it, India appear to have a well-balanced side but it will have anything but easy against the South Africans, who are high on confidence after an emphatic T20 series win. (Dhoni's men look to maintain No. 2 rank)
The tourists could not have asked for a better start to their long and arduous tour that culminates in December. One can expect a few changes in the Indian team set-up though it is more or less the same squad that featured in T20s.
Umesh Yadav returns to the side to provide a much needed zing in the pace attack while batting all-rounder Gurkeerat Singh Mann would be waiting with bated breath to make his India debut after a string of stellar performances at the A and domestic level.
Dhoni is not the same 'finisher' that he used to be and will be eager to make the most of his promotion at number 4, a position where he is expected to bat after coming out at the same batting position in Bangladesh.
While Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are likely to open, Ajinkya Rahane can find himself playing in the middle-order again replacing Ambati Rayudu, who was out for 0 in the two T20s.
Dhoni wanted to give time in the middle to benched players like Rahane, Stuart Binny and Amit Mishra in the final T20 but a washout at Eden Gardens robbed them of some match practice ahead of the ODIs.
Rohit, who struck a delightful ton in a losing cause at Dharamsala, would want to carry on in the same vein and his opening partner Dhawan must be eyeing a bagful of runs after two failures in the T20s.
Going by his lofty standards, Kohli too has not been as prolific as he would like to be and the challenge of taking on tough opponents like the Proteas is all that he might need to stamp his class once again.
On the bowling front, Dhoni faces a bigger headache with his attack putting up a pedestrian performance at Dharamsala and Cuttack. Barring lead off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, none of the pacers or spinners were able to trouble the opposition batsmen and the evening dew made things worse for them.
Yadav's return makes the pace battery look more potent but Bhuvneshar Kumar will have to step up his game on his home ground and likewise for fellow medium pacer Mohit Sharma. The Green Park surface usually plays slow and low and Dhoni will have to decide what is best for the team from three specialist spinners, as many faster bowlers and sole all-rounder Binny.
South African attack, on the other hand, looks ominous with the return of speedsters Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn, who were rested in the shortest format. ODI skipper AB de Villiers will also have the services of Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada, who impressed with their pace in the T20s.
With many part-times in their ranks, Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso are the only two specialist spinners in the squad. The battling, led by the dangerous de Villers, looks more ominous than their bowling.
Jean-Paul Duminy is in cracking form and de Villers too has looked in good touch so far. The batsmen overall have not been fully tested so it remains to be seen how they fare under pressure.
India: MS Dhoni (captain), Ravichandran Ashwin, Stuart Binny, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Mohit Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh, 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 9 AM IST