Barely a week after its victory against the West Indies at home, India has flown to the southern hemisphere for a three-match ODI series against South Africa, a hurried prelude to the subsequent two Test-series.
While India gears up for the opening one-dayer at the Wanderers Stadium here on Thursday, the back-story remains positive. The hapless West Indies team was quelled 2-1 with aplomb as India rode on Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan, who together (353 runs) accounted for 46 per cent of their team’s runs (766). Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and M.S. Dhoni also had their limited stints and the batting phalanx seems primed.
However, adjustments have to be made for the extra bounce and movement. Add to it Johannesburg’s altitude of 5751 feet and the resultant thinner air which would mean that the ball will travel faster. These are factors that impel the Indians to tweak their muscle-memory and cricketing responses.
The playing surface holds no secrets, though, as most of the Indian players have had innumerable hits on these pitches thanks to the medley of senior tours, the 2009 IPL and the recent visit of the ‘A’ team. The last-mentioned will offer cheer as India ‘A’ had won that tri-series that featured the host and Australia, while the two four-day games against South Africa were drawn 1-1.
The players who had formed the nucleus of that squad are among Dhoni’s current batch too: Dhawan had hammered a 248 in a one-dayer while Suresh Raina and Rohit slammed tons in the First-Class games. Cheteshwar Pujara, who will join the Test squad later, also prospered with a century each in the one-dayers and in a four-day game.
The batting looks reassuring while the bowling will depend on the seamers working on their lengths besides staying grounded in conditions that are supposed to be their allies. Dew too is a factor as the nights get colder and add to the drama; the venue witnessed sharp spells of rain accompanied by thunder-claps on Tuesday evening while Wednesday wavered between glorious sunshine and spells of rain.
It will be interesting to see how Dhoni picks his fast bowlers as he has options ranging from Mohammad Shami to comeback men Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma. The last-named had a middling yield against the Australians, and now steps in after a five-for for Delhi against Haryana in the Ranji Trophy. And there are also Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma to fall back upon. Spin too can be a weapon, and R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja would do well to remember Sunil Joshi’s five for six spell against the Proteas in Nairobi in 1999.
Squaring up against the Indians would be A.B. de Villiers’ men, who lost the one-day series (1-2) against Pakistan, and that too at home. Hashim Amla, de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander had their moments but the parts did not add up and the one-run loss to the visitors at Port Elizabeth in the second game again drove home the vulnerability of the Proteas under pressure.
Still, India has to put its best foot forward as victory in a bilateral series in South Africa has proved elusive since Mohammad Azharuddin’s men landed here in 1992. A course-correction is called for and India has a chance to do that.
The last time the two teams played here — during the 2010-11 series — India snatched a one-run victory with Yuvraj (53) and Munaf Patel (four for 28) coming good. But, as they say, all that counts for nothing when the first ball is bowled here on Thursday, with the fans chugging on their beers on the grass embankment egging South Africa on to emerge victorious.
And there was no avoiding Indian cricket’s biggest benchmark. Just as the Indians limbered up with a football on the eve of the match, the giant screen read: ‘Highest run-getter in One-Day Internationals: S.R. Tendulkar, 18,426 runs.’
A legacy needs to be honoured, and what better way than to start with a victory?
The teams (from):
India: M.S. Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, R. Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Mohit Sharma and Amit Mishra.
South Africa: A.B. de Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Quinton de Kock, J.P. Duminy, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Umpires: Richard Illingworth and Adrian Holdstock; Third umpire: Johan Cloete; Match referee: Andy Pycroft.
Match starts at 5 p.m. IST.