If you thought India's away season had finally ended with the Asia Cup, then you are wrong. There's one more game, a Twenty20 against South Africa at the Wanderers, shoehorned into the tiny gap between the Asia Cup and the start of the IPL, which starts five days later. It's the sort of scheduling usually reserved for unofficial charity games. South Africa have just arrived from a full tour of New Zealand. When this game was announced officially earlier this month, the big question was not why not, but why.
Cricket South Africa has announced that this will be an annual affair, following last year's Twenty20 game between the two sides at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban. That match was Makhaya Ntini's farewell game. Tomorrow's match is dedicated to Jacques Kallis, and the proceeds will go to his scholarship foundation. The game might be for a noble cause, but is anybody aware that it is even happening? National newspapers in India have dedicated vast amounts of column space to the lead-up to the IPL. There's little mention that the national team has flown to the southern hemisphere again, to play a solitary match. The channel broadcasting the game in India have started a countdown to the game as a bid to aggressively market it in the middle of two ongoing international series.
Fans can be forgiven if they say they are fatigued, but MS Dhoni, the India captain, insists his team is not. It is his style to put a positive spin on everything, even when the ship is sinking. His team and the support-staff have clocked so many air miles in the last few months that they probably feel sick at the sight of airport lounges and hotel rooms. A one-off match with little context is the last thing they would have wanted.
South Africa have shown some compassion, resting their jet-lagged senior Test players (except Kallis and Lonwabo Tsotsobe). There's no rest for India's seniors, bar Sachin Tendulkar (though he doesn't play T20 internationals). Perhaps this could be seen as a last-ditch attempt to end a horrific season with a win. The IPL franchises have already vented their displeasure about the odd scheduling of this game because the India players are missing from the pre-tournament camps. The hosts are winding down their domestic season so this game hardly disrupts their plans.
A year down the line, if you forget this game took place, don't beat yourself up. In this era of "cricket excess", it's hard enough to remember a game which finished yesterday.
(most recent first) South Africa WWLWL India WLLLW
In the spotlight
When Richard Levi's name was called out at the IPL auction this year, it did not create a ripple. A blazing century off 45 balls (a record for Twenty20 internationals) in Hamilton made those franchises sit up. He was promptly signed up by Mumbai Indians. This will be most Indian fans' first chance to see him.
India's bowlers conceded 329 and 289 in their last two one-day internationals. Their generosity peaked in the match against Bangladesh, where they dished out full-tosses by the dozen. That malaise affected Australia recently. Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan have shown they can bowl swinging yorkers, though sporadically. Death bowling could be the difference for India.
Pitch and conditions
A batting track is expected. The altitude in Johannesburg, though, could test the India players.
The hosts seem to be approaching the game quite casually. The 13 players did not train, and the captain Johan Botha hadn't even met the coach Gary Kirsten the day before the game. There were rumours that the uncapped batsman Farhaan Behardian will play.
South Africa (probable) 1 Richard Levi, 2 Farhaan Behardian, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Faf du Plessis, 5 Colin Ingram, 6 Albie Morkel, 7 Dane Vilas/Morne van Wyk (wk), 8 Johan Botha (capt), 9 Wayne Parnell, 10 Rusty Theron, 11 Lonwabo Tsotsobe
India, for whatever logic, picked 15 players for a solitary match. There were no announcements from the India camp. Robin Uthappa, coming off good form for Karnataka in the domestic one-dayers, looks good for a recall. Manoj Tiwary has sat on the bench ever since he scored a one-day century in December. Will his wait end?
India (probable) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Praveen Kumar, 11 Ashok Dinda
Stats and Trivia
India are returning to the venue where they played their first ever Twenty20. Albie Morkel is the only survivor for South Africa from that game.
India lead the head-to-head in Twenty20s by an overwhelming 4-1.
The Wanderers has the highest runs-per-over - 8.23 - among grounds which have hosted a minimum of eight games.
"There are a lot of young players we are trying to groom, and hopefully it will pay dividends in the future. From our point of view there is a lot of talent around, we need to give them the exposure they require." Duncan Fletcher, India's coach, says this game has value after all.
"With the World Twenty20 coming up in October, every T20 game is important and you can learn in every game." Johan Botha says preparation for the World Twenty20 will be the focus in the one-off game.