South Africa may be tipped as the favourites, but India’s strength cannot be ignored for the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Nishad Pai Vaidya looks at the factors that may favour India on their tour to South Africa.
As Indian cricket made rapid strides with a young setup through 2013, there was a lot of talk about their impending acid test in South Africa. With the veterans gone and a young side eyeing a smooth transition, many feel that the Proteas would pose a serious threat to India. However, there is an air of confidence about this Indian side and the three match One-Day International (ODI) series may not be dominated by the hosts — as many expect. This Indian side has the goods to fight the Proteas in their own den and perhaps emerge victorious — after all the hosts are coming off a defeat to Pakistan in their familiar home conditions. That series proved that South Africa aren’t as invincible they are perceived to be. A Pakistan side that mainly relies on its bowling sealed the series by winning the first two matches. In the second ODI, South Africa were coasting to a victory when they simply wilted under pressure at the death. Two of their batsmen got important fifties — one of them even going into the 90s — and one of their bowlers took a six-for, yet they lost. And that too against a side low in condience.
Pakistan’s victory does help the Indian cause — psychologically more than anything. South Africa would be under pressure at the start of a new home series as India is a much stronger one-day outfit when compared to Pakistan. India’s bowling may not be as strong as that of Pakistan, but India are a more balanced side. This certainly gives Indians the necessary belief that they can trump South Africa in the opposition’s backyard.
Another highlight of Pakistan’s victory was that South Africa still have the tendency to “choke” under pressure. While it may not be as bad as it is during World Tournaments, there would always be that lingering thought at the back of the mind if they are put in a spot during tough games. The run-chase was theirs to lose during the second ODI, and with the game in their hands, it was quite shocking that they couldn’t finish it. A similar result was seen during India’s previous tour when they defended a total of 190 at Johannesburg. South Africa collapsed at the death and lost by a solitary run.
If South Africa are chasing, India have to create the pressure in the middle overs so that the task gets tough at the end for the home side. However, India’s death bowling hasn’t inspired much and they will have to rise to the occasion to put more pressure on the opponents. Indeed, adapting to conditions will be an important factor for the – Indian batsmen in South Africa. Earlier this year, they performed quite well in England during the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and then during the tri-series in the Caribbean. The South African conditions would offer more bounce and can test some of them. However, most of the frontline Indian batsmen have been to South Africa this year on the ‘A’ tour and that would have given them enough exposure to the conditions. Indian batting mainstays Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina — three out of the top six — had toured South Africa with India A earlier this year.
For the openers in particular, the ‘A’ tour would have been a pivotal experience. Rohit and Dhawan are going to face the new ball and things would be more testing early on. India have two men who have prepared for this very test and would be ready to take it on upfront. They have faced the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well, which certainly rules out the psychological barriers. In fact, Steyn was Dhawan’s teammate at the Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The new generation is fearless and in good form. Dhawan, Rohit and Virat Kohli back themselves to come good in any situation and given their current form, they are poised to do well in South Africa if they adjust well. Dhawan and Rohit have established themselves at the top and have formulated a good strategy whereby the latter waits and the former attacks. This tactic worked well in England and may come good in South Africa too. Rohit has the ability to make up for lost time later and there are no problems if he takes a bit of time early on.
Kohli is India’s prime batsman and has scored runs in different conditions. He is combative and can anchor the toughest run-chases with ease. The last time India toured South Africa, he came in as a youngster and impressed with an innings under pressure in one of the games. This time, his role is more profound and he is the rock in this line-up.
While one may tip the balance in favour of South Africa for the ODI series, India’s strength cannot be ignored. This is going to be a good contest and perhaps, it may boil down to the one who holds their nerve. Confidence is the key for India.
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