ICC Cricket World Cup 2015: India vs South Africa - Preview
Opportunity knocks on the doorstep very rarely, and when it does one should grab it with both hands. Quoting Napoleon Hill, “Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.”
This is one such opportunity for both the Proteas and the men in blue. Come Sunday, one of them can establish their supremacy over the other and might eventually end up at the top of the table. It is an encounter that is of immense importance in deciding who the two teams could face in the knock-out stage of the tournament.
When we look back at the head-to-head record of both teams, South Africa look like the runaway winners. It’s scary to even think about the "Mouka Ad" if you are an Indian fan; you may have relished the ad when it was in your favour until the 15th of February, but not any more. Indians face the scary prospect of going down 0-4 against the Proteas at the quadrennial show piece event, and the South Africans will relish the chance that's right in front of them.
South Africa have had a good build-up coming into the tournament, enjoying a series win over West Indies in style. Some of their batsman showed brilliant form over the ODI series, with Rilee Rossouw, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and David Miller all notching up tons against their name.
The bowlers have been equally impressive if not at their brilliant best.
India, on the other hand, has had an indifferent build-up, with only one win in a warm-up ODI game against minnows Afghanistan. They lost all their games against Australia and England in the tri-series prior to the World Cup.
The South Africans seem to have found the right rhythm going into the tournament. They have all their players in good form both with bat and ball. They possess a side that is the envy of the world, second to none and on par with the Aussies.
The Indians meanwhile have been patchy, with the team not clicking in unison. But the current team has been in Australia since November, which means they are acclimatized to the conditions far better than South Africa at least on paper.
The journey so far
South Africa started their World Cup campaign against Zimbabwe and they certainly would have become jittery with the sort of game they had. After being put in to bat first, they were put in a spot of bother when they were reduced to 83-4 at the 20-over mark.
David Miller and JP Duminy then combined to create a record unbeaten partnership of 256 runs for the 5th wicket, plundering 140 runs in their last 10 overs. Miller and Duminy played the innings of their lives; in particular, this innings could be the making of Miller who until now was considered a T20 mercenary.
Duminy found his touch, making the world realize what the Proteas were missing during his injury lay-off. The two just blasted away through the end overs, severely punishing the Zimbabwean bowlers.
The South Africans ended the first innings well, but there was no respite when they came to bowl. Zimbabwe were 216-4 at the 36th over mark, which highlights the ineffectiveness of the Proteas bowlers, where Imran Tahir was more impressive than the rest. Eventually they won the match they had to, but not quite in the fashion everyone expected them to.
India, on the other hand, started their campaign with an impressive win, maintaining their dominance over their arch rivals. For once, everything came together beginning from the batting of Shikhar Dhawan to the effectiveness of the Indian pacers and Ravichandran Ashwin's spin. They had brought their 'A' game to the fore against their, and the captaincy was astute too. They did everything possible to near perfection.
Suresh Raina's promotion up the order was as important as Virat Kohli's brilliant knock. Dhawan hit the ground running and so did Raina with some scintillating hits. And Kohli notched up Indian's first ton against Pakistan in World Cups.
Despite the hiccup of not flourishing in the final overs, India had enough runs on the board to notch up a 76 run victory. There was more intensity and pace with which the fast bowlers bowled during the innings, which is a massive boost going into the crucial game against the South Africans.
Preparation and team news
The South Africans are not leaving any stone unturned in their build-up to the game. They have roped in Gary Kirsten, the former India coach, and Michael Hussey to chart out strategies for the tournament. Their support staff is the biggest in terms of numbers compared to any other team. And they have one of the best bowling coaches around in cricketing world in the form of Allan Donald.
Their practice has been quite intensive, starting from batting in the nets against the local spin bowlers to imbibing the technique of playing against spin with inputs from Hussey. They have even been trying to recreate the bowling of Ravindra Jadeja with the help of local lads. The Proteas have spent several hours sweating it out in the nets ahead of the game, and the only minor concern seems to be the flu that has seemingly struck Steyn this week.
The Indians have started their practice slowly but steadily. The intensity of their game seems to have picked up and after a break of a couple of days they have hit the ground. The bowlers have been bowling at full tilt, which suggests that Bhuvaneshwar Kumar's injury has healed and all the players are fit and available for the game. They will be very keen to do well in what could be the match that would decide the top spot in the group.
Quinton de Kock was a thorn in the path for Indians on their tour in 2014, as he scored three tons in as many matches to average 114. The batting is further strengthened by the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Miller, Duminy and Faf du Plessis. They have the men for all conditions and occasions and they are unlikely to put a foot wrong if things fall into place as per their strategy – they seem to have all their bases covered on the batting front.
Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are likely to be the most dangerous of their bowlers owing to their swing and bounce coupled with breathtaking pace. But Tahir and Duminy will have their tasks cut out against the Indians as they will be expected to do the containment job in the middle of the innings, which is always difficult against accomplished players of spin.
India don’t have a great record to boast against the Proteas, but they have the substance to fight the odds out and come up trumps. They will rely heavily on their run machine in the last couple of years, Virat Kohli. And the Rohit-Dhawan combo could well decide which way the game might end.
India have the firepower to finish well in the form of MS Dhoni, Raina and Jadeja. Ajinkya Rahane, meanwhile, will be the key to holding the middle order together.
The bowlers need to stick to their basics and bowl to their plans. How well they execute in the power play overs could be crucial to the fate of the match. Ashwin will be Dhoni's trump card in the middle overs as well as in controlling the power play overs. The pacers will need to bowl with more zeal and they must prove that the match against Pakistan was not a one-off game.
Both teams will miss stalwarts who used to be the back bone of their respective sides. The Indian squad will be without Sachin Tendulkar for the first time ever in a World Cup game against South Africa. The Proteas, on the other hand, will be without legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
There are other players who will be missed too – Virender Sehwag, Graeme Smith, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh.
One can't ignore the current crop of players from the two teams though. They are here trying to leave their own legacy. And if you are a stats lover and from South Africa, you’ll love this stat – their batters have a massive lead compared to their Indian counterparts when the two teams have faced each other. The young Quinton de Kock averages a whopping 114 runs per match, while Amla and De Villiers average 57.43 and 47 respectively. The best of the Indian batsmen are Virat, Dhoni and Raina, who average 34.3, 27.6 and 25.5 respectively.
The comparison becomes even starker when it comes to the bowling front. The Proteas boast world-class bowlers in Steyn, Morkel and Vernon Philander. Each of them is a rarity in what he provides, and the pace and bounce they can generate is spectacular.
The Indian bowlers can’t match their African counterparts in pace or consistency, but Ashwin provides a glimmer of hope with his off-spinners when compared with Tahir.
Come Sunday, all Indian cricket fans will just be praying that the "mauka" to light up the firecrackers isn’t lost!