India, South Africa will have plenty to prove (Preview)

March 11th, 2011 - 3:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Virender Sehwag Nagpur, March 11 (IANS) India and South Africa have developed a strong cricketing rivalry in recent years. They compete fiercely, and it will be no different when the two teams clash in their World Cup Group B match here Saturday.

A month back, they were battling it out in what turned out to be a fabulous Test and ODI series in South Africa. For the first time, India managed to draw the Test series while the home team won the closely contested ODI series 3-2.

They are expected to carry forward their rivalry here during the day-night encounter in front of over 44,000 fans at the Vidharba Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium in Jamtha. The contest has been one of the most keenly awaited and both teams will have plenty to prove.

South Africa in particular will be eager to get their Cup campaign back on track after the jolt against England, which raised the ghosts of past. Do they still choke in big matches?

All this while, the Proteas have bravely shooed away talk of their being “chokers”. The seniors in the team had pointed out that this squad has so many young players who had not been part of heartbreaking moments of the past.

England, however, gave a reason for their detractors to pounce on them. The loss in Chennai, where South Africa fell chasing 172, has certainly made tongues wagging at them again.

South Africa will be looking to make a strong statement against favourites India.

“We have learnt our lessons,” said opening batsman Hashim Amla.

South Africa made a good start to the tournament with two big wins against the West Indies and the Netherlands and look a balanced outfit to go all the way. The variety and depth South Africa have in their bowling ranks is the envy of other teams.

Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are the two best new ball bowlers in the tournament. The spinners have been a revelation, especially leggie Imran Tahir, so much so that the fearsome pace attack is left doing a back-up job.

Captain Graeme Smith is attacking with his slow bowlers and the move has paid rich dividends. Part-time spinners in Jean Paul Duminy and all-rounder Faf du Plessis have also come handy.

But the finger injury of Tahir is a big concern for South Africa as the tournament nears the knock-out stage. The Pakistan-born made his international debut in the World Cup and is the second highest wicket-taker with 11 scalps from just three matches.

The 31-year-old was injured while taking a return catch to dismiss Jonathan Trott in their defeat by England in Chennai on Sunday. He has been advised 10-day’s rest and may miss the match against India. That leaves South Africa to bring back experienced off-spinner Johan Botha to support left-arm spinner Robin Peterson.

In batting, South Africa will be looking for consistency. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla are among runs, but skipper Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis are yet to get a big knock.

“The top order will have to bat long and someone will have to carry through the innings. Had we done that, we would have won in Chennai,” said Amla.

For India, however, batting will not be a big concern and they would like to believe that the Netherlands match in Delhi where they lost quick wickets was an aberration. Their strong batting line-up was tested by both Ireland and Netherlands.

Bowling is the biggest concern for the home team, considering that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems to have almost given up on any drastic improvement on their weakest department - fielding.

Dhoni had said that Ravichandran Ashwin will get a chance in at least one of the remaining two games and he may get a look in.

Habhajan Singh has not been amongst wickets but Dhoni believes that the mercurial off-spinner is made for a bigger matches.

Ashish Nehra was back against the Netherlands, but has still to get into the groove. The hot conditions here will require pace bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan to show his skills with the old ball.

Last time the two teams met here in a Test match in 2010, South Africa mowed down India by an innings and six runs.

The wicket here will help the batsmen, but will have something for the bowlers as well. Australian fast bowlers extracted good pace from the wicket when they rolled down New Zealand for 207.

Whatever the nature of the wicket, the two teams will measure each other and fans who are eagerly waiting for the big-ticket game, will hope for a cracker of a contest.

Teams (from):
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, S. Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla, R. Ashwin, Ashish Nehra.

South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk (wicketkeeper).

Umpires: Ian Gould (England) and Simon Taufel (Australia)
Third umpire: Billy Doctrove (West Indies)
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka)

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