New Delhi (Sify): March 12 will see what could potentially be the most absorbing encounter in this World Cup so far, when the Indians take on the South Africans at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground in Nagpur.
At this stage, India is sitting pretty with their quarterfinal berth booked, while South Africa have everything to play for. Three wins and one tie have not done the Indian Cup prospects any harm whatsoever, although recurring poor fielding is a major area of concern for MS Dhoni. He has harped on it at two successive post-match interviews, simultaneously admitting that there was not much scope for improvement on that front.
The hard-earned wins over Ireland and Netherlands were largely crafted by the hand of Yuvraj Singh, as he – funnily enough – became the first World Cup participant to score more than 50 runs and capture 5 wickets in one match. The performance of the other spinners has rarely crept above the ordinary, with young Piyush Chawla not always justifying his place in the side. Maybe it is time to give R Ashwin a much-deserved chance?
The Indian batting has ditched its flamboyance from the previous games in favour of a more circumspect outlook. This attitude may have largely been an ode to slower pitches, but has not played its part in stemming the fall of wickets. Things could have gone either way until Yuvraj Singh arrived at the crease with metaphorically rolled-up sleeves and took matters beyond the reach of the opposition.
South Africa, for their part, bullied West Indies in their first match and went on to trample all over the Dutchmen. However, things got real interesting on Sunday in Chennai versus a wounded England, placed in a do-or-die situation. Restricting England to 171 may have made their task seem initially easy, but the Proteas also suffered from slow-pitch blues and a lower-middle order slump. In spite of measured double-figure contributions from the top five, headed by Amla (42), the regular coming-and-going of batsmen at the crease kept the English bowlers interested.
A steadfast Morne van Wyk could not hang on to his wicket and see things through to the desired result. In the end, South Africa will be left feeling the heat with their traditional match-winner Mark Boucher gone. The lower middle order should quickly reconcile to what is expected of them, in order to avoid such slumps in future.
The pitch at the VCA has had a bit of a rest since February 28th. Zimbabwe managed 298 runs on it, proving it good for batting. There can really be no excuse for not making the most of the ideal conditions and getting the runs on the board.
Players to watch
Now that Yuvraj Singh has decided to awaken from his long slumber and contribute to proceedings, in whatever manner possible, it enlivens things for the entire Indian team. His bowling performances have taken the pressure of the other non-performing bowlers constituting the side. On the Proteas side, Hashim Amla continues batting unperturbed, unaffected by top-order collapses or the inroads made by the opposition’s seam bowling. Everyone will be very interested in finding out if leg-spinner Imran Tahir troubles the Indian batting as much as he did the Englishmen.
If India do not take on the “chokers” mantle from the South Africans and if their bowling does not dramatically let them down, they should come out on top in this meeting. However, the unnecessary loss to England will rankle and Graeme Smith will look to rally his men and make a statement against the hosts.