India v South Africa, 2nd ODI, Bangalore November 18, 2005

The die has been cast for South Africa



As history beckons, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis know they will have to play the Australian way © Getty Images
South Africa pricked India's win-bubble three days ago, and stand on the threshold of a remarkable record that appeared unthinkable when they struggled to a 0-1 Test reverse in India a year ago. As they showed in Hyderabad, South Africa have the pace and batting depth to worry any team in world cricket, but their lack of genuine spin options could catch up with them on a Bangalore pitch that could be receptive to turn while being full of runs. Rahul Dravid and Greg Chappell will shuffle their 15-man pack once again in an attempt to get back to winning ways, while stability appears to be the watchword for South Africa under Mickey Arthur and Smith.

Records beckon

Victory tomorrow will allow Smith's side to equal Australia's 21-match unbeaten run which encompassed their last World Cup triumph. For a team that lost 12 of 13 ODIs before embarking on this run, it's been a stunning turnaround. After looking clueless, dispirited and out of their depth in Sri Lanka last August, the combination of Ray Jenning's tough love and Arthur's more relaxed approached have combined to forge a team that is slowly getting back to the standards that South Africa set in the mid-to-late 1990s.

A more personal landmark awaits Sachin Tendulkar, who plays his 356th one-day international tomorrow, equalling Wasim Akram's record. It's been 16 years since Tendulkar started out on his epic journey, and as his recent half-centuries against Sri Lanka showed, a few more records will be shattered before modern cricket's biggest institution calls time.

A bastion of sorts

India have played 12 ODIs in Bangalore, dating back to September 1982 when Krishnamachari Srikkanth's devastating unbeaten 92 saw off a Sri Lankan side that had been given the whiff of victory by a thrilling 121 from Roy Dias. Of those 12 matches, they have lost only four. The last of those reverses came two years ago when Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist pounded out centuries to propel Australia to an unassailable 347 for 2. Virender Sehwag will have fond memories of a previous encounter against Steve Waugh's side - his half-century and three wickets on comeback set the stage for the heroics that would follow.

Home discomfort?

In nine Test innings and six one-day outings on his home ground, Dravid has managed just two half-centuries. But while his Test record here is abysmal (165 runs at 18.33), his ODI tally of 215 runs at 43 is second only to Sachin Tendulkar, who has 363 runs from his six outings here. As someone who has made a career out of proving the doubters and stereotype-creators wrong, what price a big innings tomorrow?

Much dew about nothing?

The dew factor continues to divide opinion among players and fans alike. While no one likes to bowl with a wet and greasy ball, it remains to be seen whether either captain will refuse first use of what looks an absolute belter on winning the toss. And while the bowlers could struggle under lights, shot-making too could be more difficult with a sodden heavier ball. As Australia showed last time out, there's no better way to close out a game than to bat first and pile up the sort of total that can kill the opposition's appetite for dinner.

South Africa's problem of plenty

Charl Langeveldt will undergo a late fitness test before a decision is made on the final composition of the side. But in Andrew Hall, who scored a painstaking Test century at Kanpur last year, and the exciting Albie Morkel, South Africa have more than adequate seam back-up, and both men are far more destructive with the bat than Langeveldt. With Jacques Kallis saying that the pitch might take turn, there would also be an opportunity for Robin Peterson, whose left-arm spin is supplemented by the ability to give the ball a good whack.

India's Supersub conundrum

Do they go with JP Yadav, who can be useful with the bat and tidy with the ball, or do they repose faith in specialists like Gautam Gambhir and S Sreesanth? The gamble with Gambhir failed at Hyderabad, but both Sreesanth and Yadav could find South Africa a tough proposition on a ground where a Smith or Justin Kemp mis-hit will comfortably sail for six. All eyes will also be on India's batting order, with Smith having pronounced, in earshot of the pitch microphones in Hyderabad, that "They're hiding Do-nee [Dhoni], boys". Having seen what Dhoni did to the likes of Mohammad Sami and Chaminda Vaas, Smith's fast bowlers might well end up wishing that their captain hadn't been so quick on the draw.

Teams

India (likely): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 4 Mohammad Kaif, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Murali Kartik, 11 RP Singh. Supersub: JP Yadav.

South Africa (likely): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 AB de Villiers, 3 Justin Ontong, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Andrew Hall, 6 Justin Kemp, 7 Mark Boucher, 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Andre Nel, 10, Johan Botha, 11 Makhaya Ntini. Supersub: Robin Peterson.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo