Proteas face India peaking at right time

getimage (14)FOR a dozen days in Australia last month, India could do nothing right.

They were bowled out for 153 and 200, and could not score more than 267-8 in a completed innings when they were not dismissed. Their bowlers conceded 626 runs at 5.12 to the over and took just 14 wickets.

One century and two halfcenturies was all India’s batsman had to show for their efforts, and only once did a bowler take as many as three wickets.

India lost three of their games in a triangular tournament that also featured England and, mercifully, had another rained out. The biggest member of the Big Three was, in cricket terms, the smallest.

Their problems continued when they lost to Australia in the first of their World Cup warm-up games. No doubt with relief they managed not to lose to Afghanistan in the second.

Then, in Adelaide on Sunday, while South Africa were making heavy weather of beating Zimbabwe in Hamilton in their first match of the World Cup, India stirred from their slumber.

They totalled 300-7 before dismissing Pakistan for 224. The Indians were back – just in time to face South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this Sunday.

What changed for MS Dhoni’s team? In two words, Virat Kohli. In the triangular series, the furious ferret of a batsman faced just 52 balls and scraped together 24 runs in his four innings for a risible average of 8.00.

India had four half-century stands and one century partnership during that tournament. None of them featured Kohli. On Sunday they had two stands of at least 100 runs, both of which had Kohli front and centre. He scored 107.

Mohammed Shami also underwent a metamorphosis in the game against Pakistan. In the triangular series, he took 2-98 in 21.1 overs.

On Sunday, a mix of bouncers, full tosses and a length bowling earned him a careerbest haul of 4-35.

During the tri-series, Kohli was undone by overly attacking strokes when facing James Faulkner and Moeen Ali. Against Steven Finn, tentativeness did him in.

South Africa will know that India’s batting lineup is a potential juggernaut with Kohli at the helm. They will have to challenge his natural tendency to attack, and hold their catches.

India’s attack is less of a threat to South Africa, but if the Zimbabweans can reduce them to 83-4 then anyone can.

However, South Africa’s most potent weapon on Sunday could be what they are not: Pakistan.

“A World Cup opening game against Pakistan is a high stake game, but at the same time we don’t want to give it too much importance because irrespective of whether you’re playing Pakistan or Australia, the games are important,” MS Dhoni said in the afterglow of India’s victory.

No one can bring the Indians to the boil quite as effectively as Pakistan. South Africa will hope someone has remembered to turn off the stove.

-Telford Vice

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