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Time to tackle the South African test

From Madhu Jawali, Colombo, Oct 1, 2012, DHNS:

With a morale-boosting win under their belt, India target another victory as race for semi berths hots up

Virat Kohli, right and Lakshmipathi Balaji, second right, fight for a soccer ball during a game of soccer ahead of their ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Cup Super Eight match against South Africa in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. AP

Rejuvenated by their authoritative win over Pakistan on Sunday, India take on a low-on-morale South Africa in their Tuesday’s final Super Eight clash with their eyes transfixed on a World T20 semifinal berth.

India are placed slightly in an advantageous position in the sense that they would know exactly what they have to do against South Africa as the day’s first clash between Australia and Pakistan would have made clear the situation. With two defeats in as many matches, South Africa will obviously make an early exit in the event of their loss to India whose first target would be to inject a semblance of consistency that has been missing from their campaign so far.

Given South Africa’s current state of mind and their position in the Group II table, India, one might think, hold a slight psychological edge but it doesn’t take much time in this format to turn the tables around. Even considering their infamous ability to implode on big stages, the patterns to the Proteas’ losses in this event have been marked by a distinct lack of vigour in their performances. Yes, they did make a fist of a modest total against Pakistan but South Africa were never there in the game to begin with. Against a dominant Australia, their inadequacies were laid bare even more harshly.

Skipper A B de Villiers admitted the other night that he was unable to put a finger on what exactly was ailing his side but the top-order batting, on the face of it, appears to be their weakest link at the moment. In two matches, South Africa have found themselves three down in and around Power Plays leaving the middle-order with the onerous task of salvaging the situation. Some reinforcements will certainly be on the cards.

India, who would like to believe they have finally hit upon the right mix, wouldn’t be complaining though. Barring an outside chance of Harbhajan Singh coming in for Lakshmipathi Balaji, only because the South Africans have been all at sea against the turning ball, India are unlikely to change their winning combination against Pakistan.

While M S Dhoni would hope his bowlers would keep the struggling South Africans in check, his batsmen face a big test against the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

As much as it’s important to make the most of the field restrictions in the first six overs, it’s equally crucial that India don’t lose too many wickets up front. Even Shane Watson, who has been batting like a dream, was watchful against the Steyn-Morkel duo before he cut loose in the now-familiar fashion. In that sense, Virender Sehwag’s sensible batting against Pakistan should come as a good sign for the team management.

Gautam Gambhir would be clearly miffed with his two-ball duck against Pakistan to go with his run-out against Australia in the previous encounter. An angry (with himself of course) but a determined Gambhir augurs well for India along with another Delhi batsman Virat Kohli. India’s fortunes, especially in shorter versions, have revolved around how well the 23-year-old has performed and the right-hander would be one of the main targets for South Africa.

The South Africans, who need not go beyond their present coach Gary Kirsten to know a thing or two about Indian batsmen, will surely have taken note of their problems against Aussie paceman Pat Cummins who kept them on a tight leash with his well-directed, pacy bouncers. Having seen their spinners being taken apart by the Australians, it remains to be seen if de Villiers would want to retain both his slow bowlers against a set of batsmen who wouldn’t certainly lose their sleep over the prospect of facing more of that type.


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