With the 2011 cricket World Cup round the corner, the upcoming ODI series between India and South Africa is the last chance to pick a winning combination and serves as a perfect platform for India’s World Cup preparations. Team India will be tested to the limit and it will be the final hurdle for them before the mega event. A team fresh from drubbing the Kiwis 5-0 at home will be tested thoroughly here. This series is bound to prove an acid test for India as it will be played in totally alien conditions as compared to the home comfort when they thrashed the Kiwis hardly a month ago.
Having won the World Cup only once in 1983, India will be under tremendous pressure this time around to win the elusive cup. India have achieved almost everything on the field in recent years and the quest for the World Cup this time will be in the sub-continent. Hence the high expectations of the fans who will not settle for anything less than the cup. India boasts one of the best batting combinations (especially on home conditions), spinners who are winners and an astute captain with a never say die attitude. A quick look at the list of 30 World Cup candidates will make one indecisive considering the abundant talent available. At least 11 or 12 players from the current squad of 16 for the ODI’s against the Proteas are guaranteed a berth for the World Cup. For the rest, this series will be a God-sent opportunity to prove their mettle. The IPL 4 fetched great prices for Team India’s heroes. This tour is the vehicle for them to prepare for the big event and prove they aren’t just IPL heroes but World Cup zeroes. Thankfully this time, the IPL will take place after the big event unlike the previous occasions which proved very costly to Team India.
With 5 matches to be played in the current ODI series, the chances are ample for those who are not sure of clinching a World Cup spot. But failure will surely put them in a spot. This series will also serve as the last opportunity for the team management to try out various permutations and combinations. They should realize they can’t sleep now to weep later because the World Cup is akin to a stage show, unlike a movie shoot, with no retakes or room for mistakes. A wrong move is bound to catch them on the wrong foot. India is fortunate to play an ODI series with a strong team like the Proteas, that too in their backyard, just before the World Cup. It is like gold passing through fire before it shines. With Sehwag and Gamhir currently on the casualty list, India has a chance to experiment with various batting options, testing those hitherto untested for the big stage - try various bowling options, especially for the spinners as only one amongst Ashwin and Chawla are bound to be picked up along with Harbhajan. By keeping Jadeja out of the current series, India, it seems have more or less settled on Yusuf Pathan for an all-rounder, especially after his recent whirlwind 100 against the Kiwis. Looking at the current scenario, Ishant, out of the current ODI squad, may find it hard to play the World Cup. Only a handful of places are up for grabs and it is most likely only those who are in the current squad will fill these, subject to their grabbing the chance with both hands. The rest, who cannot wrest a place, will have a long rest before the IPL.
Self belief, confidence, commitment and last but not the least, the flame of desire, will surely bring the cup home. Time is running out. By beating the Proteas thoroughly, India can surely send a message of fear to the rest before the race for the cup begins. They need a never say die attitude as fortune always favours the brave.
It is now or never as this tour will bring the curtains down on the preparations and will also act as a curtain raiser for the World Cup!