South Africa v India, 3rd ODI, Cape Town November 25, 2006

Bone-dry pitch awaits both teams



Irfan Pathan winds up during a net session on the eve of the ODI at Newlands © AFP

After the hammering they got at Durban, Cape Town was perhaps the best place for India to come for some R&R and preparation. Unfortunately, they also have a match to play on Sunday, albeit on a surface that should suit their players more than most in South Africa. The pitch for the game looks bone-dry and has just a smattering of grass here and there, and though the locals expect it to be bouncy, it won't be anywhere near as fast as those they played on at Benoni and Kingsmead.

South Africa, who won their last game here (a day-night affair) by 196 runs against Australia, have few worries. On a pitch that might give the slow bowlers some assistance, Robin Peterson could come in for Charl Langeveldt. He will be the least of India's worries. Though Makhaya Ntini had an off day at Durban, the trio of Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel and Jacques Kallis was immense, scything through the middle order in the time it took for some punters to grab a beer and get back to their seats.

At this most picturesque of cricket venues, India also have a selection dilemma or two. Munaf Patel's ankle remains sore and will now be reassessed before the Port Elizabeth match on Wednesday. With a three-Test series to follow, the team management certainly won't be taking any chances. His absence should result in a recall for Anil Kumble, so impressive in the warm-up game at Benoni. Kumble, like Harbhajan Singh, relishes bowling on pitches with a little extra bounce, and unless Sunday dawns very overcast, he should edge out Sreesanth in the XI.

Irfan Pathan, whose swing bowling has fetched him six wickets against South Africa in four games, will also return, with either Dinesh Mongia or Suresh Raina making way. Raina has always been regarded as an investment for the future, and on this less-than-lightning-fast pitch, he may get one last opportunity to keep the selectorial axe at bay.

Dinesh Karthick also batted a fair amount in time in the nets, an option at the top of the order just in case Sehwag wakes up with a recurrence of the soreness that forced him to miss the Durban game. It's hardly an ideal situation. As Rahul Dravid pointed out at the press conference, most of the younger brigade have no experience of such conditions, and South Africa's attack will ensure that any lessons they learn are tough ones.

There have only been five day games at Newlands, and the team batting second has won three of them. But in the only day-game played here over the past five years, South Africa crushed England by 108 runs, after a Herschelle Gibbs century, a Kallis half-century and a late blitz from Justin Kemp powered them to 291 for 5. Gibbs has been in poor form since his epic 175 at the Wanderers in March, but his travails are trivial compared to those of an Indian team that appears fair game for anyone with a license to spew back home.

Teams

South Africa (likely): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Loots Bosman, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Herschelle Gibbs, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Justin Kemp, 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Robin Peterson, 10 Andre Nel, 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 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Anil Kumble, 11 Zaheer Khan.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo