South Africa v India, 3rd ODI, Centurion December 10, 2013

India must show they can compete

Even if India do not win in Centurion, they have to prove to themselves - even more than the opposition - that they are up for a fight

SuperSport Park is an incredibly spectator-friendly venue. It has only one stand, the rest of the seating is made up of grass embankments. Behind the grass banks there are a few house-like structures that are used as hospitality suites. There is a bar called the Captain's Deck for those who can't get into the suites. There are stumps around the ground for braais. There is not a single pillar to obstruct your view, nor chairs next to each other where you have to brush elbows with people. Except that it becomes a little difficult for people when it rains and the grass gets wet. It has been raining here. Not apocalyptically, but persistently and steadily.

It rained heavily just before India last came here for a Test. After a little over two days of cricket back then, India had been mauled so badly you wondered if they would ever be able to make a comeback on the tour. After two days of cricket this time around, it is not too different. The bowlers have looked innocuous, under the pressure of big chases the equally inexperienced batsmen haven't been able to bail them out. The main batsmen haven't even spent long enough on the pitch to offer an indication as to whether they will be able to cope.

The previous time, though, on the third proper day of international cricket, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 50th Test hundred, MS Dhoni counterattacked with 90, and Gautam Gambhir fought it out for 80. That team had a lot of steel compared to other Indian teams: that second innings in Centurion was their second 450-plus score in the second innings of a match in two years, as against four overall before then.

Eventually it served to only delay the inevitable defeat in that Test, but Tendulkar came out and said it was important that a message be sent that India were good enough to compete, and they wouldn't roll over and die. India went on to convert that same-old-same-old feel into their best bilateral tour of South Africa: a drawn Test series, and an ODI series that was alive until the final half hour. It was a little similar to Alastair Cook's second-innings century in the Ahmedabad defeat last year, after which England came back to win the series.

More than sending a message to the opposition, it is about sending a message to your team-mates who might already be low on confidence and thinking of past disasters. "Look fellas, this can be done, I am doing it, we can all do it." India have come to Centurion needing something of that proportion. It is all right even if they lose the match - if it is played, that is. They just need somebody to convey to them that Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel can be faced on these bouncy pitches in seaming conditions. They need a bowler to tell them Hashim Amla can beaten and troubled. Otherwise this short tour is going to feel like an excruciatingly long one.

The batsmen have already drawn all the flak and the pressure. It has come to a stage where it is considered to be an excellent effort to concede 280 on a pitch and heavy outfield on which 230 was par. At least they didn't go for 358. That's a bonus in Indian cricket. Not that the batsmen have painted themselves in glory, but they need some time in the middle without the pressure of chasing an over-par score before they can be judged. It could mean taking the brave call of batting first on a pitch that has taken a lot of moisture from non-stop rain. If ever there was a time to make a brave call, this might be it.

A day before this ODI, Rohit Sharma spoke of the need to show a fight. "Of course we are here to compete, and not have fun and just look around in South Africa," Rohit said. "From the day since we arrived here, we wanted to provide a point. We tried our best, but unfortunately it didn't work out. There is one more game and a couple of Test matches after this. I am sure things will turn around.

"Tomorrow's game will give us an ideal opportunity to come out and perform and show them, 'Yes we are here to perform and do well.' The Test series will be a different ball game."

Rohit spoke of the need for partnerships, said the conditions are not as difficult as the results suggest, and that he knew that once you can get in South Africa can be one of the best places to bat, with its true bounce and small outfields. All the talk has been talked. Now India need somebody to go out there and actually put up a spell of competition just so that the others know it can be done.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manesh on December 12, 2013, 6:41 GMT

    @Joe-car. Do not try to twist it. Let me know whats the experience of these players in SA pitches! The same Dhavan, Rohit etc played well at home even without 10 game experience. Thats the situation of SA players. At home everyone has advantages.

  • Manesh on December 12, 2013, 6:37 GMT

    @Bang_La. Only a pathetic BD fan like you can comment like that!. Project only 1 or 2 games from the 25 games played. Why are you silent about the WC game in which your bowlers landed outside the ground or the last 9 Asiacups where BD bowlers hide under the mat and batsmen fainted in the pitch.

  • Bang on December 11, 2013, 17:47 GMT

    India's biggest problem is their below international standard bowling. India fans may need a grain of salt to digest it. I would just request them to please recall how Bangladesh thrashed their bowlers in Asia Cup to surpass 290 runs India put on board.

  • Alex on December 11, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    I can see now indian batsman going to get injured if they become brave to short ball. So goodluck.

  • Stanton on December 11, 2013, 16:30 GMT

    @yvivekcb , you are only as good as your last victory, and based on that, India are not very good. Being no 1 is nice, but u should play like the no 1 team, even when the odds are stacked against you, at least show some fight, tenacity, determination. This team, has shown that they are anything BUT the no 1 ODI team. I think it's time Indian supporters acknowledge that their team is only good at home, and outside of India are very average!

  • JAGDISH on December 11, 2013, 15:28 GMT

    Fact-1 India is a average team which plays well only on flat tracks. Fact-2 Dhoni is a good captain and has made bad decisions on this tour,should have had 4 quicks,should have left either jadeja or ashwin. Fact-3 Dhonis decision to bowl spinners after three wickets to quicks was super stupid shud have persisted with quicks and tried to wrap up SA innings. Fact 4 This comment comes from an Indian,Period.

  • Vivek on December 11, 2013, 14:14 GMT

    It's no denying fact that India is No.1 in ODIs. Top it up with World Champions & Champions of the Champions Trophy. If other teams are better then why can't they win the Major tournaments? Please explain friends. If you say those were batting pitches then does it mean other teams lack good batsmen. Friends admit the fact that India is the World champion and continue to dominate ODIs in the near future.

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2013, 13:04 GMT

    Wonder why they persist with Yuvraj and Raina ..they are just meant for Indian pitches.I guess for others to get chances,Dhoni has to be kicked out of captaincy ..He cant even test ppl like rahane and rayudu who are there for test series as well.

  • Dru on December 11, 2013, 11:41 GMT

    Thankfully for India this is a short tour! but in all seriousness SA have been totally dominant and there should be no surprises here, SA are easily the best team in the world in terms of talent. Sure India have a few good batters but as we have already found out, that all depends on what the wicket is like. The good news for India is Centurian is easily one of the friendliest wickets in SA so finally the batters will get a chance to get bat on ball, which has been a problem for most in the top order.

  • Dummy4 on December 11, 2013, 11:22 GMT

    Last Ten Innings of Raina - PROJECT RAINA OUT

    Bat & Bowl Team Opposition Ground Match Date Scorecard 0/32, 36 India v South Africa Durban 8 Dec 2013 ODI # 3443 0/7, 14 India v South Africa Johannesburg 5 Dec 2013 ODI # 3442 0/29, 34 India v West Indies Kanpur 27 Nov 2013 ODI # 3439 23, 0/42 India v West Indies Visakhapatnam 24 Nov 2013 ODI # 3437 3/34, 0 India v West Indies Kochi 21 Nov 2013 ODI # 3436 0/13, 10, 0/7 U. Pradesh v Saurashtra Rajkot 14 Nov 2013 FC 123, 2/19, 65, 1/22 U. Pradesh v Baroda Vadodara 7 Nov 2013 FC 28 India v Australia Bangalore 2 Nov 2013 ODI # 3428 0/17, 16 India v Australia Nagpur 30 Oct 2013 ODI # 3424 0/38 India v Australia Ranchi 23 Oct 2013 ODI # 3422

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