South Africa v India, 4th ODI, Port Elizabeth November 28, 2006

Will Sehwag rise to the occasion?



Virender Sehwag: an out-of-form captain with a depleted side on his hands © Getty Images

India have a perfect record of the wrong kind at Port Elizabeth - three losses, including one to Kenya - and with a fracture having ruled out Rahul Dravid, they face an unenviable task in trying to stay alive in the one-day series at St. George Park on Wednesday. Virender Sehwag, who has not been one half the vice-captain that Dravid was for Sourav Ganguly, needs to start showing that he still belongs at this level, and India must hope that the responsibility of leading the side rouses him from the slumber that has characterised his one-day cricket for most of the past 18 months.

With both Yuvraj Singh and Dravid missing, the middle-order batting looks as thin as the team sheet it's written on, and the current crisis might necessitate Sachin Tendulkar dropping down to No.4 to lend the middle some ballast. In such a situation, Wasim Jaffer, whose one-day debut lasted all of three balls in Durban, will get another opportunity to play himself into limited-overs plans.

There will also be a change on the bowling front, with the extra pace and swing option offered by Sreesanth edging out the more skiddy option that Ajit Agarkar provides. Zaheer Khan has come back a reformed individual, and with Munaf Patel likely to sit out the rest of the series with an ankle injury, he and Sreesanth will be asked to make early inroads into a South African batting line-up that has been as vulnerable against the moving ball in recent times. And though the dry pitch won't be a raging turner, both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh should play.

South Africa have brought Ashwell Prince into the squad, and his inclusion in the middle order will see AB de Villiers move up to open with Graeme Smith. Smith has looked woefully out of sorts with the bat in recent games, but with the team winning, it will be Loots Bosman that sits out. They will also have to pick two of three from Andrew Hall, Charl Langeveldt and a fit-again Andre Nel, with Robin Peterson's left-arm slow bowling unlikely to be risked against a line-up struggling so much against pace.

It was at Port Elizabeth that South Africa embarked on a remarkable unbeaten run in February 2005, after a period where they had lost lost 12 of 13 games , with the lone win coming against Bangladesh. Smith's 105 led the way that day as South Africa chased down 268, and Sehwag will need to deliver a performance of similarly epic proportions if India are to even get started in this series.

Teams

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

India (likely): 1 Virender Sehwag (capt), Wasim Jaffer, 3 Mohammad Kaif, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Dinesh Karthik, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Anil Kumble, 11 Sreesanth.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo