India train their sights on South Africa
After comfortably disposing of one team that arrived on these shores ranked No. 2 in the ICC rankings, Rahul Dravid and the new-look Indian side train their sights on another that hasn't lost a match since January 30 on their way to the position formerly held by Sri Lanka. Despite the emphatic nature of the victory against Sri Lanka, India remain seventh in the rankings, but as Dravid said at the pre-match press conference, a higher ranking doesn't give any team the right to turn up expecting victory. This is very much the clash of two teams that have gathered speeding-locomotive-like momentum in the recent past, and something has to give.
Into the unknown
The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium is far from complete, with construction in progress around much of the stadium perimeter. The outfield and pitch appeared to be in perfect condition though, and the tinge of green on the surface wasn't expected to cause too much alarm. Graeme Smith reckoned that the toss would be crucial but, with the match being played in the day and no dew factor to contend with, Dravid was surprised to hear so.
India keep options open
Dravid refused to be drawn on the composition of the side, suggesting that India held the element of surprise with several young, inexperienced faces in the ranks. Praising S Sreesanth and RP Singh for the way that they had bowled in tough conditions, he said that India would continue to be flexible with the Supersub and also with the batting line-up. Smith countered by saying that South Africa had plans of their own, and that they would relish taking on India's explosive stroke-makers with the new ball.
Battle of the sixes
Justin Kemp arrived in India having thumped 31 sixes in 26 innings, while Mahendra Singh Dhoni clattered an astonishing 17 in the series against Sri Lanka. Though there are plenty of other quality batsmen on either side, the fortunes of these two long-distance men will be pivotal in what's expected to be a high-scoring series. Dhoni has yet to face an attack of such quality, while Kemp's up-and-at-`em approach will be tested by the wiles of Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik.
South Africa's Harbhajan
In the space of less than a year, Johan Botha has gone from medium-pace bowler to frontline offspinner, and is odds on to make his debut tomorrow. He picked up 3 for 54 in the warm-up match against a Hyderabad Cricket Association XI, and is rumoured to be keen on flight and variations. When asked about the threat he posed, Dravid admitted that the Indians knew little about him, before adding tongue-in-cheek: "We've heard that he's modelled himself on Harbhajan Singh, and we've certainly played him enough."
Pinch of salt?
After so much hype about which team would be employing which player as pinch-hitter, what price Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis walking out to bat at No.3 tomorrow? The rumour mill has been worked overtime here, with Justin Ontong mentioned as a potential slugger for South Africa, while a journalist asked Dravid if there was any chance that Harbhajan or Ajit Agarkar would be used in a similar fashion for India. Dravid's response betrayed his amusement. Andre Nel against Harbhajan with the new ball? We don't think so. Incidentally, this was the venue where Tendulkar sent Pathan in at No.3 as West Zone made a mockery of a tricky run-chase against South in the Duleep Trophy last season.
Where be the local hero?
The emergence of Suresh Raina and Venugopal Rao may just have put paid to VVS Laxman's one-day career. While his former team-mates went through their paces under the eagle-eyed gaze of Greg Chappell, Laxman was miles away, preparing for a late-afternoon net session at the St. John's School. Less than two years ago, he stroked three sublime ODI centuries in a week in Australia. Now, troubled by a dodgy knee and accused of being less than athletic, one of the masters of the Hyderabadi school of wristy batsmanship faces the unedifying prospect of coming to terms with the fact that he will never make a World Cup appearance.
India (likely): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Rahul Dravid (capt), 4 Mohammad Kaif, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Murali Kartik, 11 RP Singh. Supersub: Suresh Raina.
South Africa (likely): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 AB de Villiers, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Ashwell Prince, 5 Andrew Hall, 6 Justin Kemp, 7 Shaun Pollock, 8 Mark Boucher (wk), 9 Andre Nel, 10 Johan Botha, 11 Makhaya Ntini. Supersub: Justin Ontong.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo