de Villiers’ absence gives India edge in series opener

Match details

Kingsmead, Durban
February 1, Thursday; 13:00 local, 16:30 IST
Live on Sony Ten 1 HD, Ten 1 (English), and on Sony Ten 3 HD, Ten 3 (Hindi)

The main picture

India ought to feel confident of a good showing in the ODI series starting tomorrow (February 1), not because they won the final Test in emphatic fashion but because their key players are vastly better limited-overs players. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are India’s second-most important players next to Virat Kohli, even who some might argue is a better ODI batsman than a Test batsman, and the Indian openers will feel a lot more at home now. Safe to say that if these three players come good with the bat, India have a fair chance of registering their maiden ODI series win on South Africa soil. India’s middle order, make no mistake, remains suspect.

The conditions will continue to be testing and the Indian batsmen will face a similar challenge to the Test series: the moving ball and extra bounce put them in a spot of bother throughout. The difference now is they can bat more freely, thanks to the field restrictions and the mindset of the bowlers being slightly more defensive, and Indian batsmen look better when they bat positively and are aiming to score runs.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah have grown into one of the deadly bowling pairs in ODI cricket. They carry a wicket-taking threat bowling at the start of the innings and are very good death-overs bowlers too. So, from South Africa’s point of view, the battle between their batsmen and these two strike bowlers will likely shape the result of this ODI series. Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have been able replacements for Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, something a lot of us were sceptical about when these two wrist-spinners started playing together after India’s Champions Trophy final loss to Pakistan, but this will be their first taste of bowling outside the sub-continent.

For the Proteas, the absence of AB de Villiers for the first three ODIs because of a right index finger injury is likely to be massive and makes them a slightly inferior opposition to India. de Villiers will have been the ideal batsman to take on the Indian spinners and win the middle phase of the innings with his proactive and unorthodox style of batting. Having said so, Hashim Amla is more than capable of playing a long innings and he is a very good player against spin as well, with Quinton de Kock enjoying batting against the fast bowlers. (de Kock’s ODI form has been good, with 539 runs in his last 10 innings, and in the past, this wicketkeeper-batsman has enjoyed batting against India.) In de Villiers’ absence, the role of the experienced Amla-de Kock-du Plessis trio becomes vital.

India have never beaten South Africa at the Kingsmead in Durban, losing six of the seven matches. India can expect to have a lot more support in Durban, which has the most number of Indians for a city outside India. The crowd support is another aspect that should make Virat Kohli and co. feel at home and help them fare better. The weather forecast says that Thursday will be cloudy with the temperature in daytime being 25 degree Celsius and 22 degree Celsius at night. In the last six day-night ODI matches at Kingsmead, since 2011, captains winning the toss have chosen to bat first and teams batting first have won on four occasions (a 66.66 percentage of success). What this statistic clearly indicates is that batting under lights here is usually more difficult.

Recent form

SA: WWWLL (last five One-Day International matches, from left to right)

1st ODI: India vs South Africa playing XI

Khaya Zondo may well make his ODI debut in de Villiers’ absence, having replaced Farhaan Behardien in the original 15-man squad. Of the two all-rounders in the squad, Andile Phehlukwayo is likely to get the nod over Chris Morris. And the hosts are likely to go in with a four-man bowling attack featuring Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Lungi Ngidi, and Imran Tahir as the specialist spinner.

Possible SA playing XI: 1 Faf du Plessis (C), 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jean-Paul Duminy, 5 David Miller, 6 Khaya Zondo, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Lungi Ngidi, and 11 Imran Tahir

Three batsmen will vie for two middle-order spots in the Indian batting line-up, with the other four reserved for Rohit, Dhawan, Kohli, and MS Dhoni. Shreyas Iyer was impressive in the home ODI series against Sri Lanka, having replaced the rested Kohli in the line-up; he scored 162 runs in three ODI matches and at a healthy strike rate of 101.25.

If Kohli does take recent form into consideration for selecting the playing XI, Iyer might well be India’s No. 4, leaving Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav to be chosen from for the No. 5 spot. India might be tempted to once again opt for a five-man bowling attack with three pacers and two spinners, but Hardik Pandya’s presence is likely to sway the team management to play only four specialist bowlers.

Possible India playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, and 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Match prediction

This ODI series has so many subplots that winning the head-to-head tussles is important for both teams, starting with the opening batsmen against the new-ball bowlers. As aforementioned, India are the better side on paper against a South African side minus de Villiers. But like in the Test series, India’s ability to win will be determined by how their batsmen fare, particularly on a Durban pitch that’s bowler-friendly, prominent for its extra bounce and prodigious seam movement and swing.

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