The world cup is a funny beast. It has this little item number called ‘contrasts’ that makes cricket a little interesting. As both these sides get into an important Pool B contest, history and recent form could come a cropper if the script for the game suddenly moves to the ‘Contrast’ setting. While South Africa are known for their ruthless and tigerish resolve in the qualifying stages before a knockout in World Cups, they seem to freeze the stage after. Examining a little more in detail, while South Africa were tested in 2003 and 2011 during the group stages, they’ve largely crossed the harbour safely only to find themselves at sixes and sevens in the high seas of knockouts. A side with a ‘contrast’ picture etched as a scar.
Moving on to India, we have side that’s never beaten South Africa in any of their encounters in 1992,1999 and 2011. If one recalls, all of the games went down to the final over and South Africa showed abundance of nerves, to overcome tight situations that India froze under. So that way, it’s not a situation where India has to play South Africa and has nothing going for it. While 0-3 can be the head-to-head record going into the game, both the teams will agree that it will be a clean slate with which they go into this game, with both sides knowing fully well that each of the teams have what it takes to pull a rabbit out of the hat. With the format and India’s usual best reserved for the last, the ‘contrast’ flares up for India doing well in the knockouts, exactly the opposite contrast of South Africa.
The only advantage South Africa have is that in the lead up to the World cup under conditions of swing and seam, they have a very healthy win % as compared to India, and have a unit that atleast gives the perception that it’s a very settled side.
India will rely on the fact they somehow pick up the nerve to compete with sides in tight matches if their batting can put up a show. India beat South Africa in 2013 during the Champions trophy, due to a special batting effort under sunny English conditions, but came a cropper against the bounce and swing in New Zealand and South Africa in 2013-14. Given that the Australian summer has unfolded a series of slow and flat batting wickets, India will realise that their main job is to put in a measured performance and hope that their batting and bowling clicks with the opposition managing to choke a bit. That’s setting expectations on 3 different things to come together, while South Africa on paper look to be able to seize a game even if 2 of their departments fail. On paper, for man-to-man and on recent form, it would take a logical punter to put his money on South Africa, as their batting, fielding and bowling units look well oiled and it takes for a unit or two to fail and for India to be on par with them
What to expect?
India in my opinion should look to bat first, and set a total on the board. While leaving the weaker of their two-the bowling for the last is a little worrying, if it manages to put South Africa under pressure in a chase, that looks the most realistic chance India may have. The key to batting well is to preserve wickets for the end, where the batting arsenal’s firepower is usually tested. If India lose early wickets, the game is as good as gone, as we’ve seen last week with Australia throttling England in the first 25 overs, and the ease with which James Taylor made his runs towards the end.
There is lesser pressure on India’s bowling given lesser expectations out of a rather inexperienced attack. They however have the knack to pull a rabbit out of the hat, as they showed with some tight bowling against Pakistan. If the pitch tends to be on the slower side, Mohit Sharma’s line and length bowling could be useful, but if its as flat as we saw in Australia’s opening game, India’s bowlers are up for a field day, as our bowlers are neither restrictive nor penetrative. Dhoni’s instinct in bringing on bowlers at the right time is what may help India put a better show on the field.
South Africa is best served with 4 fast bowlers to relentlessly attack India, and leave out the spinner in Imran Tahir. India when they last played in New Zealand a year back found Mclenegan, Milne, Boult and Southee quite hot to handle and did not win a single ODI on that tour. So that strategy may help South Africa, with some bowlers identified to bowl short, while some bowl fuller length if the pitch gives some assistance. I would pick Vernon Philanderer, despite some very average returns as a bowler last year at the MCG, for his ability to use the conditions well. He may well be the X factor in side where he usually gets missed out in the iconic company of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Stat bytes from the MCG
In the last couple of years, except for Sri Lanka who shot out for 198, most batting have scored above 257 with the highest being 342, scored a week back by Australia.
India and South Africa have played once at the MCG in the last couple of years and their batting units have helped them rack up the same score-267 on each of their occasions. So we should gear up for yet another 300 day most probably.