Eyes on World Cup spots as ODIs begin
January 12, Durban
Start time 14:30 (12.30 GMT, 18.00 IST)
The Test series between the top two teams in international cricket was meant to be this tour's biggest draw, but the ODI series that starts on Wednesday is almost as significant. Bilateral one-dayers are an after-party to a grand event, though not in this case with the World Cup just over a month away and with the teams required to finalise their fifteen-member squads for the event by January 19. Three of the five games in this series - the last official 50-over preparation for the two sides ahead of the World Cup - will be played out before the deadline and they are likely to influence the composition of the final squads.
Injuries to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have led to call-ups for Rohit Sharma and M Vijay for the ODI series, though Virat Kohli appears to have done enough in the middle order for his place to be in any risk. There is more competition in the bowling, with a possible tussle between Sreesanth and Munaf Patel for a spot alongside Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra in the fast-bowling attack. Praveen's eleventh-hour injury gives Ishant Sharma, who had an ordinary Test series, another go at the one-day level, though he is almost certain to miss the first game. Piyush Chawla returns to the 50-over format after more than two years, but R Ashwin is the favoured second spinner in the squad, while Harbhajan Singh will look to build on his performance in the Tests.
South Africa have roped in legspinner Imran Tahir and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, as potential slow-bowling partners to Johan Botha; Colin Ingram, who scored a century on ODI debut, fills in for the injured Jacques Kallis at No.3, and could be in the running for a top-order spot in the World Cup, while David Miller will possibly be fighting for a middle-order slot along with the leg-spinning allrounder Faf du Plessis. The battle for the third seamer's position will be between Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell, though Ryan McLaren, not playing this series, has also done the job in the past.
South Africa, at home on lively tracks, go in as the favourites. The team coming on top will go into the World Cup on a high, but individual performances in this series could be just as important as the scoreline itself.
South Africa: WLWLW
Players to watch out for…
Virat Kohli: One of India's in-form batsman, Kohli comes into this series with two centuries and two half-centuries in his last six matches. Almost a certainty in India's World Cup squad, given a successful 2010, an impressive performance in tougher conditions - his only ODI series outside the subcontinent has been in Zimbabwe - should further reaffirm his chances.
Faf du Plessis: He was signed up for US$120,000 at the IPL auctions and will be eager for an ODI debut here. An impressive List A batting average of 44.37 and his abilities as a legpinner makes him a strong contender as an all-round option in South Africa's middle order.
The teams could shuffle their line-ups for the first few games. Sachin Tendulkar returns to the 50-over format after a self-imposed break - his last ODI was in Gwalior, where he scored that record-breaking double-century against the same opposition.
Praveen's absence puts Munaf in the frame for the third seamer's spot, but India will want to take a good look at the conditions before taking a call on whether to go with two spinners and two fast bowlers.
India (possible): 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 M Vijay, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 R Ashwin / Munaf Patel, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra
Parnell's impressive show in the Twenty20 match will make it tough for Smith to ignore him. Tsotsobe was in good form against Pakistan in the UAE when Parnell was injured, and the latter's batting credentials could be the clinching factor.
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Faf du Plessis / Robin Petersen, 7 David Miller, 8 Johan Botha, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Wayne Parnell / Lonwabo Tsotsobe, 11 Morne Morkel
Stats and trivia
- India's have won only three matches and lost 16 against South Africa in South Africa - their worst record in any country
- Sachin Tendulkar has scored 1422 one-day runs in South Africa, but only 522 of those have come against the hosts, at an average of 26.10
"It's something that I have dreamt of throughout my captaincy."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith is excited at the prospect of having an attacking spinner in Imran Tahir in his squad
"You have to start respecting the bowlers right from the very start."
India captain MS Dhoni knows conditions in South Africa are different from the ones the India team is used to at home
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at Cricinfo