By Chetan Narula
Johannesburg: Dec 4, 2013
South Africa‘s One-Day International (ODI) captain AB de Villiers didn’t make any bones about the fact that the hosts are indeed “under pressure” going into the first of the three-match ODI series against a formidable Indian side led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
“We are under pressure, playing in our own country and that is a bit unusual for us,” de Villiers said during the pre-match media conference.
While admitting that losing the ODI series against Pakistan 1-2 has dented their confidence, the South African skipper made it a point to state that they are certainly not underdogs as being dubbed in some quarters.
“We have just lost a series at home, so the confidence is not very high. Some of the knowledgeable people will say that we are underdogs. But there is no way we will stand back and allow that to happen. There is no chance we will accept that. At home we cannot afford to be called the underdogs,” de Villiers tried putting up a brave front.
The skipper expects his team to perform to their full potential at home against a team that’s not known to do well in these conditions where there is a lot of pace and bounce on offer.
“If we play to our full potential, no one can stop us here, especially in South African conditions. That’s the kind of mindset I want the guys to go in with for Thursday’s game. We need to show the right attitude, good body language.
“Most of all, we need to remember that we are playing against a sub-continent team that has come to South Africa and they have a very bad record against us here. Even though we just lost a series, we have the confidence and belief to beat the world number one side,” he added.
It is definitely a sound warning for Dhoni and his boys, as they prepare to take on South Africa in the first ODI at the Wanderers. Given this aggressive tone, the pitch rolled will obviously be of much interest, not just in this match but throughout the tour.
“I have had a look at the wicket and there’s a lot of grass on it. It hasn’t seen a lot of sun yet. But it should play the same over the course of 100 overs. Whether we bat first or second, or bowl first or second, I am not too fussed about that. We are playing the number one team in the world and we will have to play well to beat them,” said the South Africa captain.
Even if the pitch doesn’t change its nature for the duration of the match, given the form of Indian batsmen, it is not unlikely that scores might touch 300. However improbable chases as seen against Australia might be elusive.
Perhaps this is something that concerns South Africa more than India, for they haven’t crossed 300 for sixteen ODIs now.
“It is because we haven’t played in India for some time now,” said de Villiers jokingly.
“In South Africa, you do not see a lot of scores around 300 and perhaps in this series as well, we might not get to see that. Only occasionally, do we come across a wicket in South Africa where 300 or 300-plus is possible. But as a team we are quite capable of putting up the runs, if we are given that sort of a wicket to bat on.”
“India are an all-round good side, but yes, their strength lies mainly in the batting. They have posted some very high scores in the last few matches, and all their batsmen seem to be in good form. But playing at home, our bowlers have the skill to counter that and we plan to get early wickets upfront,” he added.
The last time South Africa did cross the 300-run mark was incidentally against India, in their 2013 Champions Trophy encounter at Cardiff. As such, it brings the visitor’s bowling into the picture.
“There is no doubt that India are certainly not the best bowling attack in the world. But there will be assistance for them here and sometimes when you try to get on top of them, they tend to get a lot of wickets.
“So there is no way we will underestimate them. We will be working hard to not give them early wickets and if we don’t lose too many, I believe, we can have a real go towards the end of the innings. That’s an area we will be looking to exploit,” said de Villiers.
This is a handy strategy when South Africa bat first, and despite their captain not preferring to bat or bowl first, they will be wary of chasing, even against a ‘weak’ bowling attack. Quite simply, their record while chasing isn’t anything special, having lost seven of their last eight matches doing so.
“The third ODI against Pakistan was a dead rubber and I thought it will be good for the team, so decided to bowl first. We needed some confidence batting second and see if we can cross the line doing so, for that was something we hadn’t done for a while.”
There is the odd threat of rain, with thundershowers lashing Johannesburg every day for the past couple weeks and this has been taken into account.
Apart from that, the hosts don’t intend to spring any surprises, atleast not in their team selection. There is some doubt over Vernon Philander. He suffered a shoulder strain after falling awkwardly in practice on Tuesday and is a possible doubt for Thursday. Meanwhile Jacques Kallis is fully fit and available for the first ODI, as are the others, raring to go.
“India are the deserving number one side at the moment.
We want to do well against them in both the ODIs and later in the Tests to follow. Lot of factors go into why we want to do that. Our players know their roles well.”
“We have batsmen who want to bat long and others who are free-flowing batsmen. The balance is there. Hopefully tomorrow there will be an electric crowd at Wanderers and they will help get us across the line,” De Villiers signed off.
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