South Africa v India, 5th ODI, Centurion January 22, 2011

Tough competition but still no winner

While the ODI series has not matched the three Tests in terms of quality of cricket, the fact that it has gone down to a decider provides a fitting end to a closely-contested tour

Can somebody separate these two teams please? The Test series went into its final day with all three results possible, and ended level. The same scenario awaits the finale of the ODI series, for the forecast for rain on Sunday, which follows a week full of rainy days in Centurion, makes a drawn series a probable result too. To determine a winner, we go back to where it all started what seems like an eternity ago - in reality it has only been a month and a week since the tour began - the stunningly beautiful SuperSport Park.

The weather back then was similar too, with rain in the air, the pitch under the covers, and India got off to a typically slow start to the tour, on a damp surface. They have surprised many with the fight they have shown since, especially in the one-dayers, in which they have fielded a side with much less experience than the Test one.

MS Dhoni is eager to get back to Centurion. "I don't mind a damp wicket again," he said. "I don't think it will really happen. And I am hopeful there won't be any Duckworth-Lewis involved in the match.

"It doesn't get any better than this: the best teams in the world playing against each other, and once again the series has gone down to the last match. That's an ideal set-up for the end of the tour. I am just hoping it will be a perfect day for cricket, and may the best team win."

In terms of skill-levels and the quality of cricket on display, the one-dayers haven't quite lived up to the lofty standards that the Test series set, but it is not exactly a bad thing for the Tests to maintain that primacy, not in some corporate talk from the administrators but out on the field.

The series has left South Africa captain Graeme Smith drained. "I am looking forward to the two weeks off," he said. "With two top teams playing, it's competitive, and there was also the matter of selecting the World Cup squad. So it can be quite heavy on players, and especially captains. We'd love to finish the series strong on Sunday and freshen up for the World Cup, during which we have to be at our best for six whole weeks."

The tour has, indeed, taken its toll on minds and bodies. India had to send three players home after the Test series - Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir - while South Africa lost Jacques Kallis, who is always considered more than just one player because he contributes with both bat and ball.

Tempers have flared, respect has been earned, records have been broken, we have celebrated the presence of people of Indian origin in South Africa, we have seen a South African support team help India excel, and going into the last day of a tour that has lasted close to two months, we don't have a winner.

After having seen fortunes swing this way and that over the tour, Smith, who will be captaining South Africa for the last time in a home ODI, is not even thinking of making brave statements going into the decider. "At the moment no one holds the advantage," he said. "It's about who performs better on the day. Obviously sitting here, I would love to say that I back us to do well, but you have got to be realistic. You have to go out on Sunday and do the same things well, keep staying positive about the way we play, sum up the conditions there and just perform. Centurion normally has a slightly better batting wicket than we have played on in the series so far. So we may need to adapt to that."

For one final day, before the cricketers from these two teams go spend time with their families and then go into their respective World Cup camps, they will put in one big effort to keep the level of competitiveness and quality up to the standards that have been maintained through the entire tour. For one final day, it will be about this tour, and not about the No. 1 ranking or the World Cup. And as Dhoni said, may the best team win.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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