India are a quality side and can come back - Nel
Andre Nel expressed amazement that India's defeat in Durban had led to a debate in the country's parliament, and brushed off suggestions that a struggling Indian side would be fair game as the series resumes in the Western Cape. Nel was surprised at how quickly the Indians had been written off, and insisted that the batting in particular would be no pushover.
"They are a quality side and can come back," he said, speaking to the media after a training session on Friday evening. "We are in for a big challenge the next three games. I think they [the batsmen] are awesome, and if you don't get the basics right they can take you apart. The biggest thing for us is to stick to our plans and do the basics right and if you do that, I think you can do well against Indian batting."
According to him, the 157-run drubbing in Durban was largely down to the extra bounce in the pitch, which discomfited an Indian middle order that has little experience of such conditions. "It takes time to adapt to that and maybe there wasn't enough time," he said. "But they're all quality players and they'll come back stronger and ten times hungrier to do well. They'll be scarred by the loss, and I think we're prepared for a harder time on Sunday."
He also dismissed suggestions that India were a two-man batting side. "The middle order looks a bit inexperienced with Yuvraj [Singh] not being there but I think they're all quality players," he said. "[Suresh] Raina is a good player, [Dinesh] Mongia can score some runs. They're still dangerous and you cannot underestimate any batter if he's playing international cricket. They are key players, Sachin [Tendulkar] and [Rahul] Dravid, and if you get them out it always looks like there is a small chance but you can never ever take anyone too lightly."
Nel was delighted at having scalped Tendulkar at Kingsmead, continuing a remarkable run of success against the world's best batsmen. Though he has dismissed Brian Lara 11 times in international cricket, Nel refused to be drawn into any comparisons. "I don't think I've had success against Sachin, I have taken him out only once," he said. "You can't call it success yet. There's a long way to go in this series, still three more one-day games and the Test series. I respect him but I won't back down to him. They're top players, and you can't afford to do that."
India's relatively inexperienced pace attack, from which Munaf Patel will be missing on Sunday, also came in for some encouraging words from a man whose off-field persona is a far cry from the bully-boy tactics often seen in the middle. "They have two left-armers, and Sreesanth has quite decent pace and bowls in good areas," said Nel. "We think Patel is injured and not bowling as quick as we thought he would. Everybody says he's the new quick bowling hope, but he's not bowling quick at the moment. It's a good balanced attack and if they can get the basics right and get used to conditions, I think they can be very effective."
Zaheer Khan is the most senior of those bowlers, a man on the comeback trail, and Nel made no secret of the fact that he rates him as an opponent. "I haven't followed what happened with Indian cricket but he has always bowled quite well for India in the past. He bowls well at the death for them. He's quality bowler and deserves to be in the side at the moment, I think."
Looking ahead to the game, Nel said that a slower pitch might make for a more even contest. "There might be a little more bounce but it's still a lot slower," he said. "It could be better conditions for the Indian team, so I think it will be a good challenge."
Apart from scalping 4 for 13 in Durban, Nel also contributed a rapid 22, his highest ODI score, enjoying a partnership with Jacques Kallis. "As I walked in, I said: 'I never thought I would bat with Jacques Kallis in a one-day game'. So, it was pretty funny for me and I enjoyed scoring some runs."
With the Indian batting looking so brittle at the moment, there might be much more scope for enjoyment as the one-day caravan winds on.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo