After the Test stalemate, a depleted India and a scarred South Africa will begin their battle of ODI supremacy on Sunday when the three-match series gets underway at a fortified Sawai Mansingh Stadium.
The Indian team arrived on Friday high on morale and low on resource and it would require more than a nip and a tuck to fill the void created by the absence of some of their key players.
The hosts’ bowling unit will lack the firepower of Zaheer Khan after the pace spearhead strained a leg muscle during the Kolkata Test against the Proteas. Zaheer’s absence would sorely be felt not just because he leads the attack but also because he has been virtually India’s bowling captain, mentoring fellow pacers with his elder-brotherly concern.
The spin department would also not be the same without the feisty Harbhajan Singh, who would miss the first two ODIs to attend his sister’s wedding.
The volatile offie, who had just regained his mojo in Kolkata, would have been quite a handful for the South Africans with his bag of tricks and reckless slogging down the order, not to mention of his confrontational approach.
India’s batting also loses some of its formidability because of the absence of left-handed duo of Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir, the first is nursing an injury in his left wrist and the second a groin.
Like the recent Test series, here also India has more than just a bunch of personal reputations at stake.
India need to win the three-match ODI series to remain the number two One-day side in the world which would entitle them to $75,000 from the ICC.
To stave off the South Africans, India would expect the substitute players to come to the party on Sunday.
S Sreesanth, Zaheer’s replacement, is expected to share the new ball with Ashish Nehra and the Kerala speedster would have to ensure that he is upto the mark. Uttar Pradesh teammates Sudeep Tyagi and Praveen Kumar would vie for the third pacer’s slot.
In the slow bowling department, Amit Mishra is almost certain to play and he is expected to share the spin burden with all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, whose utility in One-day cricket has been proven beyond doubt.
In the batting line-up, Gambhir and Yuvraj’s absence could be compensated only if the top order fire in unison.
Irrespective of whether India set a total or chase one, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar would have to provide the start they are expected of and Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina need to continue the good work.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has fond memories of the venue. In 2005, it was at the same venue that the star stumper-batsman, then with flowing tresses, had hit a devastating unbeaten 245-ball 183 which remains his highest ODI score so far.
Since then, the Indian captain has modelled himself more into a finisher but the crowd would assemble on Friday to see glimpse of the old Dhoni.
A product of the same power-hitting school, Baroda all-rounder Yusuf Pathan is also set to make it to the playing XI, hoping to continue his red hot form that has won him a recall to the side.
Fortunately for Dhoni, India is not the only team grappling with injuries.
South Africa has already lost their charismatic captain Graeme Smith and even though stop-gap leader Jacques Kallis has an enviable record against India, how much inspiration this burly all-rounder manages to provide remains to be seen.
Prolific top order batsman Hashim Amla has been asked to stay back and fill Smith’s void. Amla may have been a run-machine in the drawn Test series but One-day cricket is a different kettle of fish altogether and the bearded batsman might struggle to adjust to the ODI mode.
Their bowling, especially Dale Steyn, looked too hot to handle in the Nagpur Test but was pretty pedestrian in Kolkata. Steyn’s pace, Morne Morkel’s bounce and Wayne Parnell’s angles remain a worry but the Indian line-up is capable enough to blunt them all.
The match would be played amid unprecedented security after reports of potential terror attacks on the city surfaced.
The stadium has already been turned into a fortress with CCTV cameras, metal detectors, sniffer dogs and a sea of security personnel taking care of the venue and the Indian Air Force has been entrusted with aerial surveillance.
India: MS Dhoni (Captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, S Sreesanth, Ashish Nehra, Sudeep Tyagi, Praveen Kumar, Abhishek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Amit Mishra.
South Africa: Jacques Kallis (C), Herschelle Gibbs, Hashim Amla, Loots Bosman, AB de Villiers, J P Duminy, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher, Charl Langeveldt, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Roelof van der Merwe.
Venue: Sawai Mansingh Stadium
Time: Live on NEO Cricket at 14:30 (IST)