The only cricket team that India has unable to beat in the 50 overs World Cups till date is South Africa. The exact reasons for this are hard to find. It is not that there is a chasm separating these two teams – India is slowly bridging the gap that exists between them in terms of fielding and pace bowling. When it comes to batting prowess, both teams are evenly matched and as far as spin bowling is concerned, India has some advantage thanks to the array of good spinners at its disposal.
How will Conditions Affect the Game?
The Indian cricket team will take on the mighty South Africans tomorrow in Melbourne. It is a hard and bouncy wicket, which may not be as quick as Perth or as bouncy as Brisbane, but always has something for the bowlers. Quick bowlers will find decent pace, and spinners will enjoy the bounce on offer. Since it is a true wicket, batsmen will enjoy making their shots as well. In all, there is every ingredient needed for a good match between two evenly matched sides at the moment.
Areas of Advantage for India
The first match with Pakistan has been a revelation on several counts. First of all, the team has shown that it can put good totals on the board. Second, and perhaps even more important, is the fact that the bowlers have performed well in a pressure-filled game. The opening bowlers – Shami and Yadav – have been hostile and incisive. One only wonders how much the team would have benefited if the quick bowlers selected for the test series with Australia were fit and in fine fettle. Dhoni would have surely benefitted if he could have called on either one of Bhuvneshwar (swing and accuracy), Ishant (bounce and accuracy) or Aaron (extra pace and bounce).
In their absence, Mohit Sharma has shown himself to be a reliable option as the third seamer. Dhoni’s field placing especially to an erratic bowler like Umesh Yadav has been excellent. When we juxtapose this with South Africa, we see a team that struggled in the initial overs against Zimbabwe’s seamers and would have been shot out for a paltry total but for the world record partnership between Miller and Duminy. Their bowlers with the unlikely exception of Imran Tahir were carted around as Zimbabwe folded up for 281 within 50 overs. Team India is presently in form, and in limited overs games, form often gives you an assailable momentum.
India also has a far better balanced line-up as opposed to South Africa, especially in terms of bowling. They have five bowlers, each of whom can be entrusted with the full quota of ten overs. The same cannot be said of South Africa. Their fifth bowler – a combination of Farhaan Behardien and JP Duminy – was toyed with by the Zimbabwean batsmen at their will and looks to be a liability in the days ahead.
Areas of Disadvantage for India
South Africa is the top ranked team in tests and the third best in ODIs and not without a reason. Their batting line-up is awe inspiring, probably the best in their limited overs history. Indian bowlers are prone to getting carried away, and with South African batsmen that could prove to be very costly. South African fielding is also one of the best in the world along with Australia and New Zealand. As Sachin Tendulkar has pointed out rotating the strike against them could become well nigh impossible. It has often been seen that extraordinary fielding can make even ordinary bowlers look better than they are. It is a completely different issue that South Africa has two world class bowlers in Steyn and Morkel, backed up by Philander and Tahir who are pretty successful as well. So, fielding is one area where South Africa will hold a distinctive advantage over India and that could very well turn the game in the favour of the African team.
Grey Areas for India
Dhoni has said that in this World Cup all the teams will aim to hit big and bowl short to win games. While hitting big could be the order of the day, given how tough it would be to steal singles off them, Indian bowlers would need to avoid erring on the short side. South Africans are natural players of the pull, hook and cut, and will enjoy such bowling. May be pitching the ball up as Marsh and Stark did the other day against England would be the recipe to success in Melbourne! Mohit Sharma may also need to focus more on yorkers considering this wicket is not as slow, and here his slower balls could be cannon fodder for the Proteas. The batting in the slog overs against Pakistan was atrocious – only 23 runs in five overs and MS Dhoni was in the crease. So the team needs to show more initiative in this regard if it bats first because a bigger total will be needed against South Africa.
Bright Lights for Men in Blue
Steyn, the mainstay of South Africa’s bowling, is not keeping well and even if he plays the game it is doubtful as to how fit he would be after a bout of flu and sinus problems. So, Indian batsmen could look to capitalise on that. Morkel and Philander also suffered drubbings at the hand of Zimbabwean batsmen and there is absolutely no reason why it cannot happen again. They can also feel enlivened at the fact that South Africa does not have a proper fifth bowler. The ground is a big one and that will perhaps allow Indian batsmen the chance to settle down by rotating the strike early on in their innings. Maintaining composure would be the key in this important contest.
As is being shown in the Star Sports advertisement, this is a major mouka for the Indian team to beat South Africa for the first time in a World Cup game. One feels confident that the Indian team will try and do something on that regard. However, it also needs to keep in mind the fact that this is the second game and after this it would have comparatively easier games. So the players need to relax and focus on getting their basics right on more occasions than their opponents as they did against Pakistan.