Cardiff: Two convincing victories in two warm-up games have given India the perfect momentum going into the main event of the ICC Champions Trophy where they face South Africa in the opening encounter on Thursday.
They were tottering in both those matches, having reduced to 110 for 4 chasing a huge 334 against Sri Lanka and 55 for 5 batting first against Australia, but found key players who batted with gumption to secure victory. With his match-winning back-to-back centuries, Dinesh Karthik has ensured his place in the final XI. The only question now will be where does he bat?
MS Dhoni, after India's 243-run win over Australia on Tuesday, hinted that Karthik is a top order batsman and should bat up the order. "I'd like him to play at the top of the order but we'll [have to wait and] see," Dhoni said after he himself smashed 91 off 77 balls and shared 211 for the sixth wicket with Karthik to drive India to 308 against Australia.
But despite their dominant performance in the warm-ups, India have a riddle to solve before they take on South Africa. Their openers - Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan - plus Rohit Sharma have failed to fire so far. While Vijay looked tentative for his 18 and 1, Dhawan too seemed to be finding his feet with poor scores of 1 and 17. The places of one of the two might have been in danger if Rohit had scored runs, but the 26-year-old is still far from converting his 'talent' into performance. His disappointing outings (5 and 10) in the warm-up means he may find himself out of the team with no change in the opening slots. The rest of the batting looked certain, with Karthik coming ahead of Suresh Raina, who is expected to bat at No. 5, one ahead of skipper Dhoni and allrounder Ravindra Jadeja.
More settled bowling unit
India's bowling is said to be their weak link and it looked very much so when they were clobbered for 333 by Sri Lanka in the first warm-up. But the inclusion of Umesh Yadav, who rocked the Australian batting with 5 for 18 in five overs, added the much-needed fire power to their bowling. Having tried Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Yadav upfront, Dhoni brought in Ishant Sharma as the first change against Australia, and the move worked as the tall pacer chipped in with 3 for 11 in his five overs. With three specialist seamers playing, it's hard to see Irfan Pathan getting a game. With the English pitches looking much drier than usual, India sook set to field R Ashwin along with Jadeja.
South Africa have some fond memories from this tournament. This is the only major ICC event that they have won since returning to international cricket. After winning the inaugural event in 1998, it would be fitting if they clinch the last edition of the tournament as well. But they too have some tinkering to do ahead of the India clash.
Absence of key players
They have come to England without their Test skipper and opener Graeme Smith and talismanic allrounder Jacques Kallis. The unavailability of the two key players has forced them to look for other options. While Alviro Petersen is certain to grab Smith's opener's slot, Ryan McLaren can very well take Kallis' position. They are also jostling with whom-to-fit-where dilemma. If they play Colin Ingram at No. 3, then Faf du Plessis will have to bat at No. 6 after captain and wicketkeeper-batsman AB de Villiers. And who do they play at No. 4? JP Duminy or de Villiers? The fight for the batting slots is so intense that even David Miller, who had a wonderful season with his IPL side Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League recently, finds it hard to get a place in the final eleven.
Fight for the third seamer and spinners slots
In Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel South Africa arguably have the most formidable fast bowling combination in the world, but who will come as first change is a cause of worry. With his economical figures in the one-off ODI against Netherlands and 2 for 43 in the losing cause in the warm-up against Pakistan, Lonwabo Tsotsobe may get the nod ahead of Rory Kleinveldt. They will also want to play at least one spinner. Either allrounder Robin Peterson or Aaron Phangiso may fit in that role.
India: 1 Murali Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Ishant Sharma
South Africa: 1 Alviro Petersen, 2 Hashim Amla, 3 Colin Ingram, 4 AB de Villiers (capt/wk), 5 JP Duminy 6 Faf du Plessis, 7 Robin Peterson /Aaron Phangiso , 8 Ryan McLaren, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Rory Kleinveldt/ Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
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