India and South Africa came through their outings against Ireland unscathed after trying various options ahead of the three-match series that starts in Stormont on Tuesday. Neither side had too many problems overcoming the Irish, but India were plunged into trouble as a virus ran through their camp leaving them desperately short of fit players ahead of the opening match.
At least eight of the playing squad were feeling under the weather with Sreesanth, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ramesh Powar, RP Singh and Ajit Agarkar the worst hit. Those five couldn't attend India's final training session at the Civil Service Ground. Rahul Dravid said he was also feeling the effects of the illness, which hit Dhoni first and ruled him out of Saturday's match against Ireland.
Rakesh Patel, a pace bowler playing in the Liverpool Leagues, was drafted in as emergency cover. Patel was the third highest wicket-taker in last season's Ranjji Trophy, finishing with 37 scalps at an impressive average of 21. Ishant Sharma and Ranadeb Bose, who were due to fly in with the Test squad, were called up early and will arrive in time for Friday's match. The situation was so bad that India considered trying to get the game pushed back to Wednesday, but the logistics of such a move made it impossible.
That left India struggling to find 11 healthy players for tomorrow's match and Dravid said: "Quite a few boys in our team are suffering from viral fever and flu symptoms. It's not ideal, but it will give some of the other members of the squad a chance."
Over the weekend new faces from both sides put in impressive performances - Piyush Chawla for India and Vernon Philander for South Africa - while recalled players also shone. It is impossible to predict how events will pan out leading towards the next World Cup but these players are doing themselves no harm with eye-catching efforts. In the short-term, too, there is plenty to play for with India preparing for the Test and one-day series against England and places in both squads up for grabs for the Twenty20 World Championship.
Conditions in Belfast have been far removed from what both sets of players are used to and the forecast is for them to stay largely the same - cool, windy and showery - at least for the opening match. Apart from not helping the Indians' health, it puts the onus on seam and swing bowling, which Jacques Kallis believes could leave his side with an advantage.
"Being rusty will be against us," said Kallis, "India have played a lot of cricket and we aren't as well prepared as we want to be. But I think conditions might play into our hands with the ball seaming around a bit. Having said that they have world-class players who can produce big innings."
South Africa have a whole host of pace options to choose from and Philander's debut figures of 4 for 12 have left them with a few headaches. "We have always said we want to have a wide base to choose from and to see him come in and perform like that was admirable. He's got a bright future ahead of him," said Kallis.
The experienced trio of Andre Nel, Charl Langeveldt and Andrew Hall were all rested against Ireland because they'd played recent county cricket and at least two are likely to return against India. Thandi Tshabalala didn't get much of a chance to impress on Sunday, although conditions weren't in his favour, and Kallis said pace bowlers were the way to go.
"We've seen that the ball moves about off the seam throughout the game and batting conditions are quite tough especially against the seamers. If the weather stays like it has been it's going to be tough for the spinners and we might have to revert to the pacemen."
But while South Africa are trying to decide which players to leave out, India are left crossing their fingers and hoping a couple of the squad wake up feeling better in the morning. Otherwise they might need to ask for a six-a-side match.
India (probable) 1 Sourav Ganguly, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Rahul Dravid (capt), 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Rakesh Patel, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Sreesanth
South Africa (probable) 1 AB de Villiers, 2 Morne van Wyk, 3 Jacques Kallis (capt), 4 Herschelle Gibbs, 5 JP Duminy, 6 Justin Kemp, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Andrew Hall, 9 Charl Langeveldt, 10 Makhaya Ntini, 11 Dale Steyn