Melbourne: Buoyed by their overwhelming victory against arch-rivals Pakistan in the opening game, India will aim to turn the tables when they meet a formidable South Africa in the cricket World Cup, here on Sunday.
While Pakistan failed to buck the trend against the defending champions for the sixth time, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men will hope that they turn fourth time lucky after losing to South Africa on three previous editions at the mega event in 1992, 1999 and 2011.
Whether it is Peter Kirsten in ’92, Jacques Kallis in ’99 or Kallis and AB de Villiers in 2011, India have always found a Protea batsman, who had turned out to be a thorn in the flesh for them.
In all three defeats, India have batted first and it will interesting to see what decision Dhoni will take if he wins the toss.
Although a group league match in this tournament is of little consequence but the winner of this game might just go a long way in clinching the top spot in group B, considering that the other teams are just not world beaters.
So there’s a few things that will be at stake and teams have a lot to play for.
As the two teams clash at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), South Africa under De Villiers will certainly start as clear favourites against a young bunch of bravehearts led by Dhoni.
Player to player, South Africa seem to possess a far more formidable line-up compared to India, who are just trying to hit the right rhythm post Pakistan victory.
While South Africa were a bit patchy in their 62-run win against Zimbabwe, JP Duminy and David Miller’s magnificent late blitz turned the course after the minnows dominated the better part of the match.
As South African captain Graeme Smith has aptly pointed out that it will be a battle between India’s famed batsmen and South Africa’s world class pace attack, the inexperienced Indian bowling will also be put to Test against a quality batting line up led by their talismanic captain, who recently scored the fastest ODI century in just 32 balls.
Virat Kohli’s 22nd ODI hundred, Suresh Raina’s form during the business end of the innings and Shikhar Dhawan being back among runs is a boost team’s confidence, they will face an entirely different test against a far superior South African bowling attack.
An attack led by world’s finest fast bowling pair in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel is not an easy proposition on any track in the world, let alone the MCG, where one can expect even bounce.
If that’s not enough, Vernon Philander as third seamer can be a handful on track that offers a little bit of help. Steyn, suffering from sinus, was not in his element in the opening match against Zimbabwe. He came in as first change, and gave away 64 runs in 9 overs.
While Rohit Sharma would quickly like to get over the disappointment of not scoring against Pakistan, the Kohli-Steyn battle can be as intriguing as the Tendulkar-Steyn battle used to be during earlier days.
While Steyn is likely to torment the Indians with pace and swing, the steep bounce generated by 6ft 4 inch tall Morkel and the movement that can be extracted by Philander will definitely test both technique and temperament of the batsmen.
If Philander fails to make it, Kyle Abbott or Wayne Parnell will take his place.
Also Indians haven’t had much problems tackling the leg-spin of Imran Tahir. Whether South African team management would opt for a restrictive left-arm spin option like Aaron Phangiso is there to be seen.
There are a few areas where India will like to worry despite their fabulous win against neighbouring country. Skipper Dhoni’s poor form is a cause of concern for the team although the captain seemed to work extra bit at the nets trying to find ways to counter the short-pitched stuff dished out by the South African attack.
The other worry will be India’s batting slump at the death where they lost five wickets for 23 runs.
While Pakistan’s batting resources were not enough to
chase down the total, Proteas’ batting line-up is quite strong as it starts with ever consistent Hashim Amla and is followed by Faf du Plessis, De Villiers, Miller and Duminy.
Miller and Duminy’s 111 run stand in last six overs against Zimbabwe showed what they are capable of. India’s pace trio of Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami can hardly err in length as they can expect some heavy punishment for lack of discipline.
But the key to India’s chances will be their spin duo Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin. If the 20 overs bowled by the Indian spinners can pose a few problems for the South Africans, Dhoni and Co. Might find the wind blowing in other direction unlike last edition or the one before that.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Axar Patel and Stuart Binny.
South Africa: AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, David Miller, JP Duminy, Farhan Behardien, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Rillee Russouw, Aaron Phangiso, Kyle Abbott, Wayne Parnell.
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (England) and Aleem Dar (Pakistan).
Match starts: 8:50 (IST).