Benoni (South Africa): Anil Kumble's return to one-day cricket and the pressure it brings on his bowling colleagues will be the focal point of India's day-night tour opener against a South African `A' team at Willowmoore Park here on Thursday.
Kumble has been dusted off the shelf and put in the one-day mix after India's recent horrendous run in the limited overs format. His experience and nagging accuracy have made his fielding travails a minor issue. Suddenly, his World Cup hopes no longer appear just a dream.
Kumble's presence though will not make life any easy for India's other World Cup aspirants. Harbhajan Singh's inevitable presence would further turn the screws on the medium-pacers.
Zaheer Khan's return would stir up the pot for the likes of S. Sreesanth and Munaf Patel, and not to forget Irfan Pathan.
Thursday's game thus could be instructive in gauging the team's plans ahead of the World Cup. The competition between the medium-pacers would only intensify and only at the end of it would one know who has been left standing.
India would take no chances with its batsmen and all the top ones are most likely to be paraded in the middle.
Everyone, from Sachin Tendulkar to Virender Sehwag to Rahul Dravid, would be keen to hit the ground. A certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's elevation in the batting order would also be watched with interest.
The opposition put together against them is far from clear. The 16-member squad is a bit bloated but the selectors' hands have been tied because of the MTN domestic championship final between Warriors and Cobras, scheduled for Friday.
A few of the players chosen in the squad, such as Johannes van der Wath for Warriors, might not be released by their respective state units.
If no such disruption occurs, then the local side is strong enough to let the tourist have an idea of what to expect on the rest of the tour.
The batting is strong enough with the likes of Hashim Amla, Ashwell Prince, Jacques Rudolph and Neil McKenzie. In bowling, youngsters such as Thandi Tshabalala, an off-spinner, has been rushed into bigger leagues because of lack of spin talent in the country.
Albie Morkel has been spoken of as the next Lance Klusener because of his aggressive medium-fast bowling and left-handed batting. Alviro Paterson is another talent who has been put on the big stage after just two first class games.
The teams (from): India: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh.
South Africa `A': Alviro Petersen, Morne van Wyk, Hashim Amla, J.P. Duminy, Ashwell Prince (captain), Jacques Rudolph, Vernon Philander, Johannes van der Wath, Roger Telemachus, Thandi Tshabalala, Dale Steyn, Neil McKenzie, Arno Jacobs, Albie Morkel, Alfonso Thomas. PTI