Durban - India will have a firm eye on the 2011 Cricket World Cup when they begin their five-match ODI series against South Africa on Wednesday.
"We want some of our younger players to play in this series so that we can see how best to utilise them," captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told a media conference in the Indian Ocean city.
"The World Cup will be in our mind when making selections, but, in general, we will pick our best available team," he said of a squad lacking injured Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Praveen Kumar.
Opening batsmen Sehwag and Gambhir were excluded ahead of the one-day games in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Centurion, and Kumar was a late withdrawal owing to an elbow injury.
"It would have been good to feature our first-choice side during the series against South Africa, but we do not want to risk aggravating injuries," stressed Dhoni.
"A number of our players are carrying niggling injuries and they are too important to risk with the World Cup just over a month away," added the batsman-cum-wicketkeeper.
India, co-hosts of the World Cup with neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are under pressure as title favourites and Dhoni said it was vital that key cogs like Sehwag, Gambhir and Kumar were given time to fully recover.
South Africa skipper Graeme Smith said he hoped the series would help find the right combinations within a squad missing injured star all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
The ODIs mark the final leg of a tour by India, who shared an absorbing three-Test series 1-1, before winning a Twenty20 game in Durban last Sunday which marked the international farewell of South African icon Makhaya Ntini.