India have safely handled their first challenge by comprehensively defeating arch-rivals Pakistan but it’s time to stop basking in the glory.
India’s next contest is a crucial one — they play a tournament favourite in South Africa. The most important thing India need to keep in mind about this challenge is South Africa are a good side but far from unbeatable. Many pundits think South Africa have the best bowling attack in the competition. I’m not so sure.
There’s no arguing Dale Steyn is a fine exponent of fast swing bowling but even he has taken some punishment near the end of an innings. Morne Morkel is fast and gains steep bounce but he’s inconsistent and doesn’t reap the rewards you’d expect from his talent. He has a tendency to ‘put the ball there’ when he bowls a fuller length and too often his shorter deliveries either beat the bat or only trouble the batsman physically. He hasn’t yet absorbed the lesson of too much intimidation and too little penetration.
Vernon Philander is very accurate but sometimes this can count against a bowler when the batsmen are on the rampage. Imran Tahir is a steady leg-spinner but he should hold no fears for Indian batsmen and if they master him, it’ll deprive South Africa of much of their wicket-taking capacity in the middle overs.
South Africa have had problems with their extra seamer since the retirement of Jacques Kallis. They’ve tended to switch between guys like Wayne Parnell and Kyle Abbott without settling on a solution.
South Africa’s preferred option in the field is to choke off the runs and let the opposition make mistakes. This works well against the lesser sides but a batting side with the skill of India shouldn’t fall into that trap.
Team India practices ahead of Sunday's clash
Bowling is key
The big test for India will come when they bowl. South Africa have a strong line-up headed by the mercurial AB de Villiers and India’s faster bowlers have been extremely magnanimous towards batsmen in Australia. There were some good signs against Pakistan but they have to prove they can be consistent, which has been beyond them so far.
With Virat Kohli back in form and Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina showing signs of emerging from a fog, it’s time for the selectors to trust the batting and pick the best bowlers.
Axar Patel is a better wicket-taking option than Ravindra Jadeja and India should prefer the specialist. The other crucial factor will be Dhoni’s captaincy; if he continues in the aggressive vein he displayed against Pakistan, it’ll give India their best chance of victory.
This will be especially so if he attacks South Africa in the middle overs and seeks wickets with the spin combination of R Ashwin and Patel.
India gained some important momentum with the victory over Pakistan. Now they have to prove they can play with the consistency required to win such an elongated tournament.