Will India's batsmen bounce back?
January 15, Johannesburg
Start time 14:30 (12.30 GMT, 18.00 IST)
The Durban loss wouldn't have shocked too many Indian fans, given India's well-known batting woes on bouncy pitches. Suresh Raina struggles to handle extra bounce, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh get into trouble when seam movement is thrown into the mix, MS Dhoni is not in danger of losing his wicket but doesn't score as fluently against such deliveries and India don't have Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. Virat Kohli has improved on this front - in 2008, Zaheer Khan troubled him with a lot of bouncers in an Irani Cup game - but India are still heavily dependent on Sachin Tendulkar to set the pace. He failed in Durban, and the rest, barring Kohli, couldn't handle the heat.
The track at the Wanderers, the venue of the second ODI, will have bounce but will it do so much as to trouble India? It will be interesting to see how Tendulkar bats. Will he take on the bowling and counter-attack or will he see out the new ball to ease the burden on the middle order? Will India open with Rohit and bring in Yusuf Pathan, who's himself no stranger to trouble against the short ball, in the lower order? This is a big series for several India contenders for the World Cup and it will be interesting to see how the think-tank accommodates them.
And what about India's bowling? Dhoni has already indicated that these are his best bowlers and he will persist with them. Ashish Nehra has had three bad games in a row - he leaked runs in the end overs in the fourth ODI against New Zealand, and struggled with the new ball in the fifth - but his record suggests he will remain one of the key bowlers. It was Munaf Patel who shouldered the burden of bowling in Powerplays and in the final overs in the last game but Nehra was doing that job effectively till recently.
For South Africa, the first ODI was a near-perfect game. In the absence of Jacques Kallis, the team lacks balance and the tail seems long. But AB de Villiers and JP Duminy paced themselves well to control the middle overs. However, concerns remain. Had one of them fallen, would the lower order have the talent and the mental strength to tackle the situation? The next four games will give us a clue.
South Africa packed in four fast bowlers and all of them delivered in the first game. For a brief while, when Dhoni and Kohli were batting, India showed South Africa some of the problems they are likely to face in the World Cup on what would be entirely different tracks in the subcontinent. It also presents another interesting conundrum: is playing and beating India on bouncy tracks in this series the ideal preparation for the World Cup? New Zealand did something similar when they steamrolled India at home just before the 2003 World Cup but it was India who went on to reach the finals then. Or will we see more benign pitches in the rest of the series?
South Africa: WWLWL
Players to watch out for…
Morne Morkel: His back-bending, hit-the-deck efforts have been a pleasure to watch. With his height and his whippy release, he extracts generous bounce from short of length and will be at it again in this series. In the first Test in Centurion, he showed great maturity in following the short balls with full deliveries which got him a five-wicket haul. It remains to be seen how he reacts if India put pressure back on him by going after him.
M Vijay: He was seen hanging on the back foot to a full delivery in the first ODI. In the recent past, he has shown vulnerability outside the off stump with his penchant to hang his bat out with his hesitant defensive pokes. However, he has played a few attacking games in South Africa during the IPL and in the Champions League. Can he derive confidence from his past and show us what he is capable of? Or will India replace him with Rohit?
Pitch and conditions
Overcast conditions prevail at Johannesburg and the forecasts predict 72% chance of rain on the match day. The Wanderers pitch has always had some bounce on offer and it will be interesting to see if the overcast conditions persist and assist in seam movement.
India are likely to go in with three seamers and Harbhajan. It will be interesting to see if they bring in Sreesanth, who featured in the Test series, for this game. They are likely to give Yusuf a run but he might come in from the third ODI on pitches that will have less bounce.
India (possible): 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 M Vijay, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Munaf Patel, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Ashish Nehra
Will the overcast conditions tempt South Africa to retain the same playing eleven or will they bring in allrounder Faf du Plessis?
South Africa (possible): 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Johan Botha, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 and 11 Any two from Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, and Faf du Plessis might get a go.
Stats and trivia
- Raina has just one half-century from the last 17 ODIs. It's not his longest barren patch, though. From April 2006 to June 2008, he went through 19 innings without a fifty.
- de Villiers' 76 was the highest ODI score by a South African wicketkeeper against India. The previous best was Mark Boucher's 68 in 2000.
- de Villiers also became the 10th South African batsman to tally more than 500 ODI runs against India.
- Tendulkar is set to join Sanath Jayasuriya as most capped ODI players (444 games). However, he is set to become the cricketer who has played the most ODI innings. This will be his 433rd innings, and he will go past Jayasuriya who played 432 innings.
"I would back Rohit Sharma as an opener ahead of Murali Vijay. Yusuf Pathan at No. 6 or 7 wouldn't be such a bad ploy once you have considered the surface."
Former India allrounder Ravi Shastri states his wish
"It was a great honour to hear that a player of (Dhoni's) calibre had good things to say about me, but I don't think the selectors will change their minds now. It was disappointing not to make the team, because it's now reasonably clear that it's the end of my dream of representing South Africa in the World Cup."
Albie Morkel, who plays under Dhoni's captaincy in the IPL, expresses his disappointment at not making to the World-Cup squad.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo