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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 25, 2011, 8:07 GMT

    @Asis Rout: Ok mate, lets go by your analogy. India would have lost the scg test anyways, because Dravid and Ganguly would have been out the very next ball. Why raise such a hue and cry then? Thats not the way cricket works.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2011, 18:19 GMT

    i dont remember when Dhoni was in form.. it seems Yuvraj, R Sharma, Dhoni and Raina are afraid of South African Bowlers.. they all are out of form.. i dont think its the responsibility of Bowlers to win the game with bat.. all the Batsmen has failed terribly.. Yusuf pathan had a fantastic tour.. hope everthing wil be ok next month.. really missed Sehwag. he would have crashed the SA bowlers confidence with his bat... waiting to Sachin, Gambir and Sehwag in WC..

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2011, 17:57 GMT

    The only mistake no but a big, big blunder instead of batting 1st that too in a do or die match with possible showers with that D/L.I won't agree if you say we threw our wickets.Rohit was more determined also meddled every-ball in the middle of his bat, but fortune was against him once again.Parthiv got a rough deal. Dhoni's un-luck continues since that ball didn't deserve a wicket. Raina instead of going full-blooded lofted shot had you played your own sliced-cut over the 3rd man region you would've got a 4. Kohli slightly nicked it had he edged 10% harder the ball wud have reached the fence in a hurry. Poor Yuvi didn't meddle a single ball, he got two 4's only through edges.Hard luck India.No need to drop any player for the upcoming WC'2011.& plz for heaven's sake do bat 1st after winning the toss especially do or die situation & plz for heaven's sake do remember what happened to us during the 2003 World Cup final vs Australia. We'll always be with you guys fight till the end.

  • matina on January 23, 2011, 17:49 GMT

    c'mon saira. y r u busy with malicious comments. india really and i do have great admiration for this indian team, if u r going to compare slight mistakes , wont reach anywhere, they did prove their fighting n its lacking to current ausies. avoid personal prejudice and accept the fact , really suspect u r pak. no wonder. take care

  • ali on January 23, 2011, 17:23 GMT

    @Vineesh Vedsen - catch or not, he was given out by a reputable international umpire!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Time u accepted that SA is better!!!!

  • ali on January 23, 2011, 17:19 GMT

    Hey, no crying , learn to take lumps with the rest of the stuff, and who knows what lies in store fot India in the WC!!!!

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2011, 17:10 GMT

    @Paramjit Das Whom are you kidding,man?"No way South Africa would have lost but for De Villiers and Boucher's decisions in second test" Remember friend this is a one ball game for a batsman.Both could have been gone the very next ball.Predicting the outcome of matches like this is just wishful thinking.But I agree South Africa was sligthly better than India.But I will not predict great things from this South African unit in the WC.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2011, 16:45 GMT

    what do you all say about the catch to dismiss Parthiv who was going so well. Was it anyway a fair catch.

    A similar catch was allowed by Jonty Rhodes off the bat of Sachin in a 1997 tri series final which SA had to win desperately.

    Again a score of 250 by SA, becomes a target of 268 for India, how.

    Again parellel to 1997, when after rain the target was reduced, 10 overs and just 20 runs reduced.

    Then too India reached 234 in 39.2 over and lost by 17 runs. Dravid hit a straight six off Donald and got a clear mouthful from him, and you didnt have to be an expert lip reader to fathom what Donald must have said to Dravid.

  • VASANTHI on January 23, 2011, 16:35 GMT

    With such poor show from dhoni, raina and yuvraj, there is no question of India winning the series or world cup. Dhoni should take a break from international cricket and practice some domestic games. He has not provided any countable inning for long time. Raina should be removed from the team for atleast for 2 years. Give uthappa and guys like him a chance. Rohit is out, and also vijay from the world cup. That is probably the best decision the selection committee maid in the last two years.

  • Dummy4 on January 23, 2011, 16:35 GMT

    There is no question about this tour being one India's most successful ever in South Africa. But Siddharth poses too easy a question. Being an Indian supporter I have to say what separated the two sides was fast bowling. The tour might have been a close one but our top batsmen looked so tentative and out-of-character facing Morkel, Steyn and Tsotsobe. On the other hand our fast bowlers looked for the most part a toothless attack.

    Another big difference I think was the attempted heroics. We as Indian fans put too much emphasis on individual heroics. So when the chips are down we would rather have a Yusuf like innings as it happened today. But we forget that cricket is a team game. Rather than hitting a boundary an over and 5 dot balls, our batsmen can achieve a similar result with 4 singles which is a much lesser risk proposition. But I guess, for a nation of crazy cricket fans the team wants to manufacture Gods and not players.

    Risk free cricket is largely missing in Team India.

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