21 February 2015
South Africa v India Preview, Match 13, Melbourne
The big stage and a packed MCG should bring out the showmen in both sides; it promises to be an intriguing clash
AB de Villiers pointed out, both are proud cricketing nations that don’t know what it is to take a backward step.
The Melbourne Cricket Ground is the biggest cricket ground in the world. A huge, intimidating cauldron that can seat upwards of 90,000 people, this venue is not for the faint-hearted player. Even totally empty as it was on Saturday, it made for quite a spectacle; when it is packed on Sunday (February 22), as is expected, it will provide a most wonderful platform from which one of India or South Africa can further its World Cup credentials.
In itself, this fixture will not dictate the quarterfinalists from Group B. For one thing, it is too early in the competition – it is only the second match for both unbeaten teams – and for another, with four of seven sides to go through to the knockouts, India and South Africa should both comfortably get there.
But, quarterfinals, potential opponents at that stage, net run-rate – all these factors will be emphatically pushed to the background as the big-match players with a penchant for the big stage will attempt to stamp their class and authority in no uncertain terms.
For sheer intensity, this contest is unlikely to pale in comparison with India’s tournament opener, against Pakistan in Adelaide last Sunday. But the intensity this time around will be of a different kind. India-Pakistan contests extend beyond the ambit of cricket, enveloping a broad spectrum of emotion that adds to the drama and the hype. India-South Africa is essentially entirely a cricketing battle, without the attendant needle that is such an unshakeable ingredient of every cross-border showdown.
As AB de Villiers pointed out, both are proud cricketing nations that don’t know what it is to take a backward step. South Africa’s skipper didn’t quite point out that he believed his side was better equipped to handle the Indian challenge, but that was only perhaps because he didn’t want to sound boastful or tempt fate.
South Africa did receive a minor scare against Zimbabwe in its opening game, losing the top four fairly early before being rescued by David Miller and JP Duminy, both centurions. De Villiers and the core support staff group would take great heart from the win. There is plenty of scope for improvement yet and South Africa might have been a little flat against Zimbabwe. On Sunday, there is no scope for flatness, no option but to turn out at full throttle. That should make for an exhilarating sight.
It’s precisely the kind of setting that is designed to bring the best out of de Villiers. Not so long back, the flamboyant right-hand batsman smashed the fastest century in One-Day International history, off 31 deliveries. He will not be intimidated by the size of the venue or the massive crowds – he is used to playing in the Indian Premier League, in front of packed, noisy gatherings – but what he and his boys will have to adjust to is for the majority of the crowd to be supporting the opposition.
The Bullring that the Wanderers in Johannesburg is is a microcosm of the MCG, but the crowd there is obviously decidedly pro-South Africa. Things will be vastly different on Sunday here, with India set to get the backing of a majority of the fans. That will be the big challenge for South Africa – to take the crowd out of the equation, to silence them and ensure that India don’t feed off the infectious energy of their fans and do the early running, because Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s boys are exceptional front-runners.
Like de Villiers who thrives on the big stage, so does Virat Kohli, his captain at Royal Challengers Bangalore. Kohli had an enigmatic smile on his face as he spoke of the cheeky strokes de Villiers has made his own, but you didn’t have to scratch beyond the surface to figure that he too was looking forward to the occasion. For the big players, inevitable showmen too no matter how much they might try to mask that, the big stage is their canvas. Nothing drives them more than entertaining and winning the approbation of a massive gathering.
Kohli warmed up for this clash with a measured century at the Adelaide Oval against Pakistan, shrugging off an ordinary run in the tri-series last month with a timely return to run-making ways. Kohli is a bit of a streak player; also, the stronger the opposition, the more stoked his competitive juices are. His battles against ‘best buddy’ Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel should make for fascinating viewing, an intriguing sub-plot to game with several subtexts to it.
Contrary to popular belief, de Villiers ruled out an all-pace attack and kept his faith in Imran Tahir, the legspinner who has been such a crucial cog, providing variety in an otherwise pace-heavy bowling attack. Not even India’s mastery of the turning ball and their alleged susceptibility against quality pace bowling will influence de Villiers into benching Tahir for one of Wayne Parnell or Kyle Abbott. De Villiers also debunked the MCG’s reputation as a fast and bouncy surface, saying the pitch on which South Africa played Australia last November was “one of the slowest I have ever played on”. Oh well, we will find out, won’t we?
Big ground, big outfield, big crowds, big occasion, big platform, big hype. All this after a big break for both India and South Africa. All in readiness for a big show, then. Bring ‘em on.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Mohit Sharma, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ambati Rayudu, Axar Patel.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (capt), David Miller, JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Wayne Parnell, Kyle Abbott, Aaron Phangiso, Rilee Rossouw.
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