India have long-term picture in their mind

'Its a good opportunity for the youngsters to cement their place'

At one level, it might appear, the result of the series is almost immaterial as back-room strategies are tried out on the field of play, tactics and game plans fine-tuned with more than one eye on what’s to unfold next month.

That, of course, is the 50-over World Cup, cricket’s most prestigious international competition. While ICC team and individual rankings have their own place, nothing beats owning a World Cup winner’s medal, which is why teams invest so much energy, effort and focus to make sure everything is in perfect readiness to make a genuine charge towards the title.

Conditions in South Africa are nowhere near what will be on offer during the World Cup, so it might not be too prudent to read too much into the result of the five-match series between India and the hosts. As it is, India have most spots sewn up and are unlikely to use the next week as something of a selection trial. Instead, they are viewing this with the larger, more long-term picture on mind.

As Mahendra Singh Dhoni pointed out on Tuesday, 2011 is going to be a busy, demanding period for Indian cricket with away tours pencilled in to England and Australia.
India are also scheduled to travel to the West Indies immediately after IPL IV, but with Dhoni steadfastly ignoring the potential Caribbean visit in his discussions on overseas tours this year, the interpretation that that tour will not materialise is not without logic.

Good displays here, especially from young batsmen, would push them up the pecking order for the year ahead, Dhoni stressed. “We tour a lot abroad this year. We go to England, we go to Australia,” the captain pointed out, again making no mention of the West Indies. “If you score here, you’ll get priority over some of the others. It’s win-win situation for them (the young batsmen).

“It’s a good opportunity for them. Rather than taking it as an extra pressure scenario, it’s always better to take it as an opportunity to score runs and give the selectors a lot more options when you score runs in conditions like this.”

South Africa have a few more spots to fill than India, and more than the performances per se, they will look at attitudes and approaches of certain individuals before the January 19 deadline for the naming of the final fifteens. “It’s always a tough time,” Graeme Smith admitted.

“Any player would love to go to the World Cup, there’s always that added pressure on the players to perform. But we have to realise that the World Cup’s played in totally different conditions to what we are going to be playing here.

“As much as we would love to have the confidence of performing well here and being successful, it’s not necessarily going to define how well we are going to be in the World Cup. Our mindset is very crucial here in terms of playing really good cricket, getting the confidence up and players getting good performances under their belt. It’s a very different style of playing in the sub-continent, and the selection will revolve around that.”
The possibility of trying to replicate sub-continental conditions for this series did crop up, but Smith laughed off those suggestions.

“Pitches for one-day international cricket in South Africa are generally well used and can be a little bit dry as the game goes on. There will be aspects of the sub-continent in that. But it’s going to be very difficult to produce Nagpur out at the Wanderers!”

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