India v South Africa, 4th ODI, Kolkata November 24, 2005

All to play for at Eden Gardens



The explosive Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been quiet this series - and that could be bad news for South Africa © Getty Images

The abandonment of the Chennai match thanks to rain, after a strong South African win in the first one-dayer, and India's emphatic response in the second, has only served to keep this series on an even keel longer, setting up the fourth ODI at Kolkata deliciously. Whoever wins here knows they are guaranteed not to lose the series, and that brings its own pressure on both teams not to lose.

The talk in the series has been tough to read from both camps, as no clear trend has emerged, no team has seized the initiative, as was the case when India drove down Sri Lanka into submission. Graeme Smith has relentlessly talked his team up, and occasionally taken a dig at the Indians. Smith didn't reveal much about the composition of his side for the match and said that South Africa "have 15 to choose from for the game". Rahul Dravid has been understated as ever, and any statements from the Indian camp will come through bat, ball, or result in the Kolkata match.

D is for destructive

Mahendra Dhoni, the latest maurauder to hit world cricket, and probably the cleanest striker of a cricket ball - with reference to an ability to clear the ropes - after the two Andrews - Flintoff and Symonds, has a had a quiet series. Of course, that is merely a question of two matches, but he is the sort of cricketer who can't help but leave an impression. Smith's suggestion that India were "hiding" Dhoni is misguided at best, and mischievous at worst. Either way, it's only a matter of time before India chart out a bigger batting role in a game for Dhoni. That time might well come in Kolkata.

The crowd factor

The Eden Gardens pitch is not up and down, and is usually just a good batting pitch on the slower side; there is no exaggerated swing to worry about; no sudden influx of dew. What is a huge factor, though, is the crowd. The most vociferous set of partisan fans normally pack India's biggest stadium, and this time there will be an added edge. There was a serious chance that widespread protests could take place in the light of Sourav Ganguly's exclusion from the ODI team, but his inclusion in the Test squad should go a long way in assuaging fans in the eastern city. Or so one hopes, for this is one crowd that could just as easily turn on the team and boo if they failed to do well.

Pollock's hunger

Shaun Pollock has not had the greatest time of it in the recent past, but he still remains the bowler most likely to bowl you an accurate spell, after Glenn McGrath. And in this series, on pitches that have not really helped him, he seems to be rediscovering a bit of pace and extra bounce that once made him such a potent force. He has never been part of a South African team that has won a series in India, and recently made that point. "Every player wants to achieve as much as possible in his career and that's why I really would like a victory here," he said. "We lost the previous series in India 3-2 after a couple of tight matches. Two matches remain in the series and hopefully I can make an impact. I would like to play a role in winning at least one, because then we can't lose the series and we would have achieved something not done here before."

Spin funda

While Dravid seems to have got a better handle on how to use the two extra Powerplays that captains are saddled with these days, you'd have to say the Supersub rule is posing a more tricky problem. In day-night matches, where gripping the ball can become extremely difficult for bowlers in the second innings, the toss has been a vital factor. And sometimes to cover for this, a spinner has lost out, with an extra batsman being retained. But with Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik on song, India have to find a way to get them both on the park.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo