South Africa v India, 1st ODI, Johannesburg November 18, 2006

Rain threatens to reign

Harbhajan Singh walks into the side... but for his bowling © Getty Images

The sporadic downpours that have made the skies over Johannesburg grey remained the main concern for both teams as they headed into the opening game of the five-match one-day series on Sunday. With rain lashing the city in the morning, practice plans had to be altered, with South Africa going up the road to SuperSport Park in Centurion and India opting for the indoor nets in the basement at the Wanderers.

India, who have won only three matches here from 16 encounters against South Africa dating back to 1992-93, go into the game on the back of a defeat against Rest of South Africa, but as Rahul Dravid pointed out at the pre-match press conference, they aren't the first team to start an away tour indifferently.

The fact that Virender Sehwag has recovered from his hand injury well enough to come through a full batting session will no doubt encourage the side. Sehwag's recent form hasn't been the best, but he if needs any inspiration he need only to replay tapes of that breakthrough innings on Test debut at Bloemfontein.

Dravid suggested that India needed to be brave, and the team is almost certain to play three pace bowlers and Irfan Pathan in addition to Harbhajan Singh. With Mahendra Singh Dhoni expected to move into the No.5 slot vacated by Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dinesh Mongia will tussle for the last batting place. Despite a catalogue of woe that dates back to the West Indies tour, Raina is likely to be given fresh licence to go out and express himself.

For Graeme Smith, there are few selection issues to deal with. Loots Bosman did little wrong in his one Champions Trophy outing, and the inclement weather conditions should mean that either Charl Langeveldt or Andrew Hall get the nod ahead of Robin Peterson. Smith will be the lone slow-bowling option, though his offspin is hardly likely to terrorise the Indians.

The surface to be used for Sunday's game bears more than a little resemblance to that on which South Africa and Australia combined for an incredible 872 runs in March, but with thunderstorms forecast for the day, the cloud cover should ensure that no bowler meets with the fate that befell Mick Lewis, whose 10 overs that day went for the small matter of 113.

The last time India played here, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn eviscerated their World Cup dream with some of the finest batting ever seen on the limited-overs stage. For some of the old boys, it was a red-letter day that went horribly wrong. The new ones, many of whom weren't even in the selection picture three years ago, have no such trauma to deal with, and it could be their ability to adapt, or not, that decides the fate of this series.

South Africa (likely): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Loots Bosman, 3 Herschelle Gibbs, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Justin Kemp, 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Andre Nel, 10 Charl Langeveldt, 11 Makhaya Ntini.

India (likely): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Mohammad Kaif, 4 Rahul Dravid (capt), 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo