India aim to rectify poor World Cup record against South Africa
Melbourne, Feb 21 - India kept alive their streak of having beaten Pakistan in every World Cup contest last Sunday. On this Sunday, however, they will look to correct their own jinx when they take on South Africa in a Pool B match in the sport's pinnacle event at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here.
India have played the African nation thrice (1992, 1999 and 2011) in World Cups and ended up on the losing side on each occasion.
This time around, both teams go into their respective second encounters of the 2015 edition with a win in their openers.
India comprehensively defeated traditional rivals Pakistan last Sunday at the Adelaide Oval, which would have definitely given the defending champions the confidence they needed following their dismal tour of Australia. They have had a week's rest and should be gunning to take the large MCG field in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, South Africa also come into the match with a win over neighbours Zimbabwe last Sunday at Hamilton.
The African side has one of the strongest batting line-ups in the world, if not the strongest. Captain AB de Villiers and opener Hashim Amla are ranked No.1 and No.2, respectively, in International Cricket Council's (ICC) One-Day International (ODI) batting rankings. That itself says a lot about the destructive nature of the duo, who along with India vice-captain Virat Kohli have been the most consistent batsmen in the world in the last couple of years.
Quinton de Kock, Amla’s opening partner, is ranked No.10. If that wasn't enough, when the top order failed against Zimbabwe, middle-order batsmen David Miller and JP Duminy struck form at the right time to hammer centuries.
It will be a huge task for the inexperienced Indian pacers to, firstly, contain the South Africa batsmen, and, secondly, pick up their wickets. Mohammed Shami will have to lead the attack. Though Mohit Sharma bowled well against Pakistan, he wasn’t up against batsmen of the calibre of Amla or de Villiers.
When it comes to India's batting, Kohli is the answer to de Villiers or Amla. The 26-year-old has been India's prime batsman for the last couple of years and is also amongst the runs following his match-winning knock of 107 against Pakistan.
The good thing for India is that opener Shikhar Dhawan also seems to have recovered his touch following his half-century last week. Left-handed Suresh Raina's explosive innings and the ever-dependable skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni provide the stability India needs in the middle-order.
However, the Indian batsmen will have to be wary of one very fast bowler – Dale Steyn – who can wreak havoc on any batting line-up in the world on any given day. Steyn's pace and accuracy are a lethal combo that all captains would love to have at their disposal.
Dhoni will have another important issue to discuss with the team management ahead of the clash and that is the bowling combination.
In the last match, he went in with three pacers and two spinners and the nature of the MCG wicket on Sunday morning will play a vital role in determining whether Dhoni keeps the same winning combination or goes for an extra spinner.
Whatever it is, the team that ends up on the winning side tomorrow will gain a huge amount of confidence and momentum in Pool B and will emerge as the team to beat in the group. Especially with a set of matches coming up against 'weaker' teams, the victor is likely to emerge as the topper of the group.