Saturday, March 12, 2011

It's a battle between India's batting and South Africans' bowling

While cricket fans rejoice the arrival of the weekend and a prospect of a magnificent clash between India and South Africa at the on-going World Cup, it promises to be a gruelling day in office for the players. Stationed in Nagpur for the big Saturday game, South Africa present the biggest challenge to the Indians in the Group B league phase thus far.

What finally transpires at the VCA Stadium at Jamtha is anyone's guess; pre-game its evident the South Africans are a relaxed lot with a point to prove. The pressure of expectations is gnawing at the Indians for whom this contest is crucial to gain some psychological advantage.

It is essentially a battle between the India's batting prowess and the South Africans' bowling firepower. With the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and MS Dhoni from India pitted against prolific talents like Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Hasim Amla and Dale Steyn - spectators are guaranteed a thrilling contest. Both teams come into the clash with reputations to defend, adding further weight to their high-profile arsenal.

Indian captain-cool MS Dhoni is currently under intense scrutiny for his constant support to under-forming leg-spinner Piyush Chawla. With sharp criticism on India's bowling doing the rounds, how he tweaks this department for the match will be the subject of many debates. The team's bowling strategy assumes special importance against a side like South Africa who has a tendency to disintegrate against slow bowlers.

Dhoni's usual preference is for two pacers and two spinners. However the pitch in Nagpur is different from the slow and low turf at the Kotla - here it's a flat pitch. Thus there's much speculation on what surprises Dhoni has up his sleeve. Fortunately Yuvraj Singh has made himself useful as the fifth bowler and an effective one too. That leaves Dhoni with the task of identifying two bowlers who will assist Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh in their work against the opponent's batting order and get the combination right before the knock-out stages begin.

Despite being undone rather easily in their last match against England, the South Africans are projecting an easy confidence in their gait. Their take is they're past the stage of faltering at crucial times, no matter what the circumstances. But, as cricketing history has shown, such feats are easier said than achieved. Their dismal performance in the previous game has put a question mark on their claim. With pride at stake, the South Africans have ample reason to want this victory desperately – even though they're not showing it.

There is one little worry for Smith. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who fractured his left thumb during the England match, is yet to recover well. The South African skipper said decision on Tahir will be taken on Saturday morning.

Who should India guard against

Hashim Amla

You don't score 8 100s and 12 50s in 45 ODIs if you don't have exceptional talent. If there's one South African batsman who enjoys Indian bowling, then it is Amla. He averages 61.83 in seven ODIs against India and he also has great memories of Nagpur, having scored a double century last year in a Test match. India must get him back in the pavilion as early as possible if they have to restrict SA.

Dale Steyn

The one man who has stood out in every South African success against India. His pace and movement can make life very uncomfortable for the Indians. He will also enjoy the true surface at Jamtha because bowlers who bend their backs get a lot of help there. He also has a good record against Virender Sehwag, who might be key to India's victory chances.

Key clashes

M Morkel vs V Sehwag

One has the bounce, the other has the strokes to deflate any bowling attack. Morkel will try and aim at Sehwag's ribcage and cramp the Indian dasher. Sehwag, on the other hand, will try and latch on to anything that's pitched outside the off-stump. It will be an arresting contest and the winner will decide which team wins.

L Tsotsobe vs S Tendulkar

The battle of the two Ts in the Test series in South Africa captured everyone's imagination. Time for the Master to show why he is called exactly that when he comes up against Tsotsobe. Left-armers have historically troubled the Indian legend. On a flat pitch it is unlikely that Sachin will allow him to settle.

J Botha vs Y Pathan

The off-spinner and the vice-captain might not have got to play had Imran Tahir been fit. But with Tahir's fitness worries, Botha becomes an automatic choice. Pathan really took to Botha in the ODI series. But here Botha may get more help with the doosra and if Pathan gives him the charge early, it may trouble him.