India brace for hostile opener
Thursday December 5, 2013
Start time 1330 local (1130GMT)
Since March 2011, South Africa and India have played only two ODIs against each other. The first was at the World Cup that India went on to win. South Africa beat the hosts by three wickets in Nagpur, in a match that seemed to indicate they were capable of breaking their major tournament jinx. They staged the perfect chase, going after a target of 297 with ruthlessness.
They next met two years and three months later, again at an ICC event that India eventually triumphed in. Again, India batted first and again they piled it on, scoring 331 in Cardiff. Although South Africa came close - they were all out for 305 - they were never really in the game.
Both tournaments were Gary Kirsten's last as coach of the respective sides and both teams went through tough withdrawals immediately after he left. India have come out on the other side, following the retirements of senior personnel. South Africa are still in the process of doing the same. Their limited-overs squads took a backseat to the Test team in the Kirsten era, and rightly so; they have since had to start over and they are definitely not there yet.
That's the background to how these rivals meet now, without taking into account the tension that has preceded this series. Although the players themselves have had nothing to do with the boardroom squabbles, they and the fans are the ones who will suffer. What should have been seven ODIs is now just three and although the former may have been overkill, the latter could leave us wishing for more.
Since this all we are getting, the best we can hope for is that the series has as much of Nagpur and Cardiff as it can have. The totals may not be as high but if the quality of the competition is as good, it will be a fitting way to end this year for the 50-over game.
Form guide(last five completed games, most recent first)
South Africa WLLWW India WLWWW
In the spotlight
India's first tour to South Africa was called the Friendship tour but this one has already gone some way to becoming the unfriendly one. With emotions running high over the shortened tour and a Wanderers crowd known for being boisterous, India can expect a hostile reception at the Bullring. The day before the match, there were only 6500 tickets remaining out of a total of over 30,000 and even with thundershowers forecast, the Johannesburg faithful are unlikely to stay away.
Three of the top five ODI run-scorers this year are Indian batsmen and their line-up has the record for the two highest innings scores this year - both in excess of 360. The ability to post towering totals is undoubtedly their strength but they might find it a little harder to do that against a South African attack that has been miserly and has promised a short-ball barrage on a green top in the hope of exposing the stereotypical subcontinental shortcoming.
South Africa are likely to go with the six-batsman strategy that will allow them to play two allrounders in Jacques Kallis and Ryan McLaren. Kallis, Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith should all return to the XI after missing the third ODI against Pakistan, with niggles keeping the first two out and Smith allowed compassionate leave following the death of his grandmother. This being the first match of the series, South Africa will likely field their strongest bowling suit, which could mean no place for Vernon Philander, who is a 50-50 call after falling on his shoulder, or Wayne Parnell.
South Africa: (likely)1 Hashim Amla, 2 Graeme Smith, 3 Quinton de Kock (wk) 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 AB de Villiers (capt), 6 JP Duminy, 7 Ryan McLaren, 8 Dale Steyn, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Lonwabo Tsotsobe, 11 Imran Tahir
India's first choice XI are all fit and raring to go. They will not want to tinker too much with a combination that has won them matches recently and will likely go in with three seamers, two spinners and their familiar, formidable top six.
India: 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt, wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuveshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammad Shami, 11 Mohit Sharma
Stats and trivia
- South Africa have lost two of their last three ODI series at home. Both were three-match contests, the first against New Zealand last year and the second the recently-completed rubber against Pakistan. They won a five-match series against Pakistan in between.
- India have won 22 of the 31 ODIs they have played this year and have the highest win percentage of all teams who have participated in more than five matches - 73.33.
"We are under pressure here in our own country. We just lost a series so confidence is not hugely high but I still think we can beat the No.1 team."
South Africa captain AB de Villiers
"The guys are quite familiar with the conditions out here. But South Africa is one place where a lot depends on how the wicket is prepared, whether it's overcast or not and the circumstances on the day."
India captain MS Dhoni
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent