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Silver lining:Zaheer Khan's performance in Durban was something to cheer about for India, which otherwise had a disastrous outing.
JOHANNESBURG: India needs a swift turnaround in the second ODI. It can't afford to be forced into a position where it has to win three consecutive matches to take the series — particularly considering that India has managed only three wins in 21 ODIs in South Africa.
M.S. Dhoni's men couldn't have picked a more difficult ground to attempt a comeback. The Wanderers is known as the Bull Ring for its air of intimidation — at ground-level, after emerging from a tunnel, a cricketer is made deeply aware of his insignificance by stands that look down on him.
Then, there's the small matter of the weather. It rained here on Friday, gloomily and persistently. The forecast is for more of the same on Saturday.
Rain-affected games are extremely tough to play, for there's little that can be planned for; it happens on the fly, calculation and re-calculation, assessment and re-assessment. Wet outfields, soggy cricket balls, damp pitches, starts and stops: they're most unforgiving.
Much about India's performance in the drubbing at Durban was bleak; there were rays of hope: the bowling performances of Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, and the part-timers, and the batting of Virat Kohli, and, to a lesser extent, Suresh Raina.
But Ashish Nehra, who's fundamental to India's plans in the World Cup, had a shocker, and the batsmen were exposed by the South African bowlers' hit-the-deck attack.
Dhoni, asked after the first game about the mental effort required for a turnaround, said, “Of course it plays on your mind a little bit, but once you're in the middle and you play a few balls, you forget about it. It's a fresh start — that's how we need to look at it.”
The India captain also spoke of the need to start well, and of denying South Africa wickets in succession. But he warned of the dangers of batting conservatively against the new ball; judicious shot selection, watchful play without squandering opportunities to score, was the method he advocated.
As ever, these things are easier to talk about. Unless a batsman has at least one horizontal-bat shot or the ability to play the rising ball down for a single, he's an easy target — as vulnerable to the short delivery as he is to the fuller ball.
This isn't the first time questions are being raised about the ability of India's young batsmen against bounce and movement. Happily, India isn't likely to face this problem in the World Cup, which will be played in the subcontinent, but it's a problem that needs addressing — for the greater good of Indian cricket.
The conditions here won't be unlike Kingsmead; nor will South Africa's plans. How the batsmen perform will be watched with interest, not least because it will throw light on how quickly they can find a game-plan that works for them and adjust their play.
The Wanderers differs from Kingsmead in its location; unlike Durban, which is a coastal city, Johannesburg is in the Highveld, known for its thin, rarefied atmosphere. The ball travels longer distances — India will need to adapt quickly to this phenomenon. Not that the team isn't used to making the necessary changes — many in the side have played several Twenty20 matches here.
With the World Cup squad being selected on January 17, the second ODI will be the final opportunity for the fringe players to state their case.
If weather permits, that is.
The sides (from):
South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt.), Hashim Amla, A.B. de Villiers (wk), J.P. Duminy, Francois du Plessis, Colin Ingram, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Johan Botha, Imran Tahir and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
India: M.S. Dhoni (capt. & wk), Sachin Tendulkar, M. Vijay, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, R. Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Zaheer Khan, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma.
Umpires: Simon Taufel and Brian Jerling; Third umpire: Johanes Cloete; Match referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts at 6 p.m. (IST).
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