Ind vs SA: Resurgent India looks to click in ODIs

The six-match ODI series in South Africa gives India a chance to try out combinations before the World Cup in 2019.

India has the chance of toppling South Africa and becoming the No. 1 ODI team.   -  Vivek Bendre

A resurgent India will be aiming for its first bilateral ODI series triumph on the South African soil when they take on the Proteas in a six-match series, starting in Durban on Thursday.

With only 14 months to go for the World Cup, India will also look to kick off its preparations in earnest during the series. India have a long limited-overs schedule until its next big Test assignment this year.

The visitor play six ODIs and three T20 Internationals here, a T20I tri-series in Sri Lanka and then three ODIs and three T20Is in England and Ireland, with the 2018 IPL season thrown in, before the five-Test series in England later in August.

Such a definitive run of limited-overs' cricket, especially in overseas conditions in South Africa and England, will allow the Indian team management to round up the squad's core for the big tournament in 2019.

At the same time, the Men in Blue would be keen on winning its first-ever bilateral ODI series on South African soil. India have previously lost 5-2 in 1992-93, 4-0 in 2006- 07, 3-2 in 2010-11 and 2-0 in 2013-14. India was also part of two triangular series in 1996-97 and 2001-02, featuring Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively, but the Proteas emerged winners on both occasions.

Read: Core of players for World Cup more or less sorted, says Kohli

So much so, India's ODI record against South Africa in South Africa is heavily skewered. In 28 meetings since 1992-93, the Proteas has won 21 matches, while India has only won five. Such a poor record will not sit well with the current team management that is intent on improving India's all-round showing in overseas conditions.

Additionally, India has a lop-sided ODI record at Durban. In seven ODIs against South Africa at this venue, since 1992-93, it has lost six with one no-result. India did beat England and Kenya here though, during the 2003 ODI World Cup, giving them an overall two wins in nine ODIs at Kingsmead.

At stake, there is also the small matter of achieving the No. 1 spot in ICC's ODI rankings. Currently, South Africa sit atop with 120 points while India is second with 119 points. While the ODI rankings change after every match, a cumulative 4-2 series win will be enough to help India achieve the top spot.

This should be motivation enough for Virat Kohli and his team, particularly as they will be taking the momentum into this ODI series, having assured themselves of finishing No. 1 in the ICC Test rankings by prolonging their unbeaten record at the Wanderers last week.

South Africa won the Test series 2-1, but lost the third Test at Johannesburg by 63 runs on a seam-friendly pitch rated 'poor' by ICC. India also has a proud ODI record to protect. Since losing 4-1 in Australia (January 2016), India has't lost a single bilateral ODI series, home or away.

In this interim, it has beaten Zimbabwe, New Zealand (twice), England, West Indies, Sri Lanka (twice) and Australia, winning 24 out of 32 bilateral matches. India's only tournament loss came in the 2017 Champions Trophy (in England), where it lost to Pakistan in the final.

As such, the team management will be relying on optimal selection to get this six-match series off to a good start. With the return of Kohli after missing the ODIs/T20Is series against Sri Lanka in December, there is only one middle-order spot to be decided.

Also read: Duminy expects closely contested ODI series against India

Shreyas Iyer gave a good account of himself, scoring two half-centuries in three matches against Sri Lanka, and is a front-runner for the job. But experience could be of greater value herein, with Dinesh Karthik and Manish Pandey also in the running.

If the visitors play a spinner, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav could get the nod ahead of both Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal, to counter the threat of big-hitting left-handers in David Miller and JP Duminy. Only one spinner would also mean that Kedar Jadhav is assured of a starting spot, thanks to his part-time bowling.

With AB de Villiers set to miss the first 3 ODIs due to an injured finger (sustained during the third Test). Farhan Behardien is usually their go-to batsman in such situations, but he wasn't called up on this occasion and this is indicative of the Proteas' team management eyeing different combinations.

Durban-born batsman Khayelihle Zondo can expect to make his debut instead. The other option is to open with Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, and give Aiden Markram another opportunity in the middle-order. The host are expected to go in with only spinner by playing Imran Tahir.

Squads

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Lungisani Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Khayelihle Zondo.

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