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Battleground shifts to Jaipur for first ODI

Why is it that India will be wary of the South Africans ahead of the three-ODI series even after scripting a memorable and morale boosting win at the Eden Gardens? Subhash Rajta examines...

cricket Updated: Feb 21, 2010 01:27 IST
Subhash Rajta

Why is it that India will be wary of the South Africans ahead of the three-ODI series even after scripting a memorable and morale boosting win at the Eden Gardens? Well, their ODI win percentage of only 36 against the Proteas, for starters.

But the not-so-pleasing record won't be the sole cause for concern to India when the series begins in Jaipur on February 21. They have more urgent and practical problems to worry about in both their depleted bowling as batting departments. The absence of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh will, for sure, take much of the sting from the attack, and the batting, too, lacks some firepower without Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir.

MS Dhoni, as one would expect, took a rather stoic view of the situation. "We have been missing one player or the other in recent times. As it can't be helped, it's better to look at what we have and deliver with that."

Point taken, but there's no denying the fact that the Indian batting line-up, especially the new faces, have been somewhat susceptible against genuinely quick stuff. Right from the reverses suffered in the T20 World Cup and then in the Champions Trophy, to the recent home series against Australia, batsmen have shown discomfort against genuine quick bowling.

The issue might have got swept under the carpet with India's batsmen doing well against the medium pacers of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the last two series, but South Africa have enough firepower to exploit that chink in their armour. The likes of Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja will need to show a lot of courage and determination to handle what's thrown at them.

The South Africans also have their share of worries. The first and the foremost is the absence of skipper Graeme Smith. Then, the poor form of AB de Villiers and J.P. Duminy, on whom the visitors rely quite heavily in the shorter version. They struggled to put bat to the ball in the Tests, and Jacques Kallis, who's leading the side in Smith's absence would be frantically hoping for their return to form.

In the bowling, however, the visitors are spoilt for choice with Albie Morkel and Charl Langeveldt joining the already frightening pace attack and Johan Botha and Roelof ven der Merwe manning the spin department. Also, Mark Boucher has recovered and is ready to go.

The stand-in South African skipper added more spice to the already high-profile series by terming it as the preparatory ground for the World Cup. "We will try to get the combination right, get used to the conditions and identify specific players for specific jobs for the World Cup next year," said Kallis.

And finally, there's a small matter of finishing the year as the second ranked team in the ICC rankings. South Africa has a chance to take the second spot from India if they win the series.

That would indeed be some consolation for failing to topple India from the top ranking in Test cricket.