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India face stiff challenge from Proteas

India face a stiff challenge when they take on an equally resurgent South Africa, unbeaten in the last 19 games, in a five-match ODI series.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2005 20:56 IST

India face a stiff challenge at home when they take on an equally resurgent South Africa, unbeaten in the last 19 games, in a five-match one-day series starting on Wednesday.

The Proteas are high on confidence after sweeping New Zealand 4-0 in a recent home series where the fifth game was washed out due to rain.

The current run for the visitors, last beaten by England in January 2005, includes 12 straight wins, which stands only behind champions Australia's streak of 21 victories on the trot in 2003.

India, who had appeared down and out barely a month ago, will aim to maintain their rich form after crushing Sri Lanka 6-1 in a seven-match series which ended on Saturday.

That victory helped them bounce back after a series of poor one-day results since reaching the 2003 World Cup final in South Africa.

The team lost 4-2 to Pakistan in a home series in April and stumbled in two one-day tri series finals in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, where New Zealand clinched the title.

New captain Rahul Dravid took over only before the Sri Lanka series after Saurav Ganguly was sacked due to a prolonged batting slump and a damaging row with coach Greg Chappell.

Refreshing approach

The victory over Sri Lanka has highlighted a refreshing work ethic by India's young players such as left-arm pacemen Irfan Pathan, Rudra Pratap Singh and wicket-keeper Mahendra Dhoni.

Dhoni's explosive innings -- his 183 not out against Sri Lanka was the highest one-day score by a wicketkeeper -- and Pathan's efforts batting coming in at number three have boosted the side.

The young pair's all round contributions are promising enough for an Indian team, which has been searching for a genuine all rounder since the retirement of Kapil Dev in 1994.

Dravid is confident his team can upset South Africa on current form, although any concern could only be explosive opening batsman Virender Sehwag, who has not hit a 50 in his last 10 one-day innings.

His South African counterpart, Graeme Smith, whose team enjoys a 28-16 win-loss record over India, is unconcerned about India's confidence and determined to keep his team's dream run going.

However, he will be without two experienced players, opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs and all rounder Nicky Boje, who pulled out of the tour over fears that they could be detained by Indian police.

The Delhi police want to question them as part of their investigations into the Hansie Cronje match-fixing saga in 2000.

Gibbs was fined and suspended by the South African cricket board for agreeing to underperform in a one-dayer in India. Boje was named by Cronje in a telephone conversation with bookmakers which was recorded by the Indian police.

But no evidence implicating Boje has yet been discovered.

They also did not tour for last year's two-Test series, which India won 1-0.

First Published: Nov 15, 2005 12:32 IST