Proteas must get their act together

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Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Greame Smith take a break during training at the Wanderers. Picture: Gallo Images

Johannesburg – Pink may be in vogue at the Wanderers on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean AB de Villiers wants his side to be a soft touch – far from it.

More than at any stage since he took over as captain, he wants to see his players adopt an aggressive approach and to make India feel very uncomfortable.

South Africa’s form in the one-day format the last two years certainly doesn’t justify a “chest out”, bossy approach, but this Momentum Series is against the No1 side in the world, and De Villiers bristled at the suggestion that his team go into Thursday’s match as underdogs. “Some really knowledgeable people will say we are underdogs, but we won’t stand back,” said De Villiers.

“If we play anywhere near our potential there is no-one that can stop us, especially in South African conditions. I want us to show lots of attitude, good body language and still remember we are playing against a sub-continent team, coming to South Africa, who have a very bad record here, there is no reason for us to stand back.”

The trouble for De Villiers is the South African team have rarely played to their potential in the limited overs formats in recent years. This is a highly charged series, made potentially more explosive by the administrative in-fighting between the two boards.

South Africa and De Villiers can ill-afford any distractions, not with their recent record in ODIs. Most concern rests with their batting, which has been inconsistent, leaning towards poor for the last two years. This short series sees them try and assimilate Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith back into the top order – normally an inviting prospect – but given Smith’s form this year and Kallis only just returning after a lengthy break, it hasn’t proved easy.

De Villiers explained on Thursday, that everyone in the batting order understood their roles. Keeping wickets in hand would be vital on a pitch which at times this season has proved difficult to read.

In two domestic games this season, scores were modest but in a clash between the Titans and Lions in October, the two teams were split by one run in a match that saw 601 runs.

De Villiers would love for his side to get in the region of 300 here – plans to do so are clear, executing those plans have proved problematic.

“That should be easy. We’ve got a couple of guys who know their roles really well. A couple should bat as long as possible, the rest are all free-flowing batters. The balance is there, we’ve got to make sure we bat for 50 overs. We are all attacking players, bar maybe Jakes who likes to bat for a bit longer, Hashim seems to want to bat longer but still scores at 100percent strike rate.”

Kallis, Smith and Dale Steyn will all return to the starting side on Thursday, but De Villiers explained there was one other change from the side that won the final ODI against Pakistan last Saturday, which was being considered. Wayne Parnell had lengthy stints with both bat and ball at training on Wednesday suggesting a possible inclusion possibly at the expense of Imran Tahir.

South Africa have cover in the spin department with JP Duminy.

India’s young attack will certainly be under the microscope on Thursday. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav will all be considered for the starting side, but while they may find conditions here to their liking, they also lack experience.

“South Africa is one place where a lot depends on how the wicket is prepared, whether it’s overcast or a bright sunny day when the wicket can be really good for batting,” said Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who, like De Villiers, will have a final peek at the pitch before making up his mind about a final XI.

Given the abbreviated nature of the series, Dhoni and De Villiers will be aware of the need for a good start, which should add even further intrigue to the spectacle. “You don’t want to lose the first match in a three-match series, it just places extra pressure on the team that does so,” Dhoni remarked.

BATTLE OF THE FRIENDLY RIVALS

Shikhar Dhawan v Dale Steyn

They’ve reportedly developed a good friendship from spending time together at the Sunrisers Hyderabad IPL franchise this year, but for the first time today they will face each other in a highly charged series. Both are aggressive players; Dhawan in a cool almost jovial manner while curling his moustache, but Steyn is all red-veined fury with some choice language thrown in for good measure. The winner of this battle may not decide the series, but it will go some way to providing their respective sides with an early psychological advantage in determining the outcome.

DHAWAN

ODIs – 28; Batting – 1219 runs; Highest Score – 119, Average – 46.88, Strike Rate – 94.13, 5x100, 5x50

v SA – one match.

Batting – 114 runs.

Strengths: Immense self-belief, which means he plays with no fear. Particularly strong on the off-side especially behind square but also possesses a powerful cover-drive. Scores his runs quickly and can take a game away from the opposition in just a few overs.

Weakness: Never been tested in South African conditions. He has talked a good game before getting here, but talking and playing are completely different matters. He may enjoy the pace of SA’s pitches, but the bounce in the summer surfaces – as opposed to the ones he played on for India A in August – are vastly different. His backfoot play will be heavily scrutinised.

He said: “It will obviously be a big challenge to perform in South African conditions but I relish that challenge. I have always loved batting on strips that offer bounce. I enjoy facing the fast bowlers. In fact, the greater the pace of the bowlers – late 140km/h to early 150km/h – the better it is. I faced Dale a lot in the nets but that won’t be of any consequence when we face him in a match situation.”

STEYN

ODIs – 77; Bowling – 117 wickets; Best Bowling – 6/39, Average – 26.44, Econ Rate – 4.83; Five wickets in an innings – 3

v India – 10 matches. Bowling – 17 wickets, Best Bowling – 5/50, Average 23.47, Econ Rate – 4.86

Strengths: World’s best fast bowler, whose 145km/h outswinger to right-handers is one of cricket’s great weapons. Pace, swing, bounce, control, aggression ... it’s all there in a finely-honed slender package. He’s been chomping at the bit to have a go at the Indians in South African conditions for months and the thrill of bowling to their star-studded line-up will sharpen his competitive edge even more.

Weaknesses: The Australians reckoned he wasn’t as potent to left-handers as he is to right-handers and they had a point. In order to set up his in-swinger into the left-hand batsman, he has to go across him first and with Dhawan’s strong play square of the wicket that will offer the Indian opener opportunities to score.

He said: “It will be nice to have that contest especially now that I know him well. It will be a great battle between good friends as well as strength and strength because he is batting really well at the moment.”

SQUADS

South Africa (from): Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (capt), JP Duminy, Ryan McLaren, Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander.

India (from): Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ambati Rayudu, Ishant Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Amit Mishra

Start: 1.30pm

TV: SuperSport 2 and SABC3

Radio: Radio 2000.

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