Cape Town - South Africa should relish
their trek back across the Tasman to face India on a radically different
Melbourne Cricket Ground surface on Sunday to the one they slightly laboured to
down Zimbabwe on.
Both protagonists next weekend (the
day/night match starts at 05:30 SA time) will enter the clash off solid enough
first-round victories in World Cup Pool B, and if evidence from the first-up
Australia-England match in the Victoria capital on Saturday is anything to go
by, the Proteas’ specialist pace attack ought to come roaring back into their
own after a few galling moments on the desperately benign deck at Hamilton’s
There is still the complex matter of just
what to do with the No 7 berth, where part-time medium-pacer Farhaan Behardien
has a rather tenuous hold on the spot, but at least leg-spinner Imran Tahir is
already in good form and the old seam firm of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and
Morne Morkel will find appreciably better bounce and carry at the MCG.
Whilst that situation will also interest
in-form Indian stroke-players like Virat Kohli, who comes off a tourney-opening
knock of 107 against old enemies Pakistan at Adelaide and subscribes to the
“faster they come, further they may travel” theory, the Proteas will
collectively feel empowered by the noticeable switch of venue to the vast,
pacier Melbourne arena.
Like several other Aussie tracks, the MCG
holds the promise of good cricket as batsmen and bowlers alike feel they have a
The main host nation (and widely-viewed
favourites) of this World Cup were certainly comfortable playing there in their
first obligation, relishing giving the “Poms” a fair old hiding.
First they came desperately close to
posting 350 - probably only falling a few runs short because English speedster
Steven Finn grabbed a hitherto unlikely hat-trick off the last three balls of
the innings - and then the two Mitchells, Johnson and Starc, firing up several
deliveries to around the 150km/h mark as England subsided to 231 all out and
defeat by 111 runs.
Steyn took an unlikely bruising from one or
two of the Zimbabwean rank underdogs at Hamilton, as they were confident enough
in the featherbed conditions to wallop him brazenly through the line, and he is
the kind of champion competitor to make mental notes of such occasions and hit
back with gusto on any surface more suited to his trade.
That could make life ominously
uncomfortable for India, despite their juggernaut batting line-up that is
roughly the match of the SA one.
Philander was probably the best-performing
of the Proteas pace trio against Zimbabwe, going at well under four runs to the
over and bagging two scalps, although Morkel also bounced back quite well in
later spells after the initial indignity of Chamu Chibhabha crashing him for
three fours in his opening over.
The incentive for South Africa to beat
India - undoubtedly their toughest pool foes on paper - is that if they can
pull off the job, many pundits would rightly be already thinking they are
racing certainties to qualify for the quarter-finals and probably also top the
group in doing so.
It would be a slightly risky assessment,
given that minnows like Zimbabwe and Ireland (shock conquerors of West Indies)
have already flexed a surprising amount of cheeky muscle, but an inescapable
thought to a lot of observers nevertheless.
Apart from boasting a healthy ODI record at
the MCG, where they have won seven and lost two matches, the Proteas boast most
recent bragging rights over India in the format, having beaten them 2-0 in a
scheduled three-match series in South Africa in 2013/14, when Quinton de Kock
lashed centuries in all three, including the eventually abandoned final fixture
India have a less happy ODI track record at
the Australian ground, with eight wins and 10 losses.
The Proteas also won the last World Cup
match between the countries - at the 2011 tournament, Nagpur - when the
afore-mentioned Steyn grabbed 5/50 in the high-scoring thriller secured by
Keep in mind, though, that India recovered
to win the title, something that has perpetually eluded South Africa, and take
to the field on Sunday as defending champions ...
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