India match a litmus test


Win for Proteas on Sunday will be huge leap forward

AS the South African squad warmed up for their training session on the vast outfield at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) yesterday, a magpie-lark near the middle of the ground alighted with attacking intent.

It veered at a flying insect that, clearly, knew how to stay out of trouble. As the bird zigged with its beak wide open, the bug zagged. When the bird zagged, the bug zigged. At the end of the merry dance, the gogga buzzed off in rude health.

The magpie-lark’s plumage is a striking swirl of black and white – not green and gold. The insect was nondescript – not at all a gleaming prize.

But watching the bird hunt the bug could not fail to inspire thoughts of SA’s long and convoluted quest for Word Cup glory.

AB de Villiers’ team will take a great leap forward in that cause if they beat India at the MCG on Sunday. If they lose, the leap will be backward.

The match will be only the second of both teams’ campaigns, and both won their first matches. But victory in a contest of this magnitude will mean more than it should. So will defeat.

“Results are always important,” coach Russell Domingo admitted yesterday. “You’d rather come off a big win in front of a big crowd against a quality side like India than a loss.

“Although it’s still early in the tournament, a lot of positives can be taken from a positive result or good performance against a side like India in front of a crowd that, I’ve heard, is sold out or just about sold out.”

That means as many as 100 024 people will be in cricket’s concrete colossus on Sunday. Almost all of them will support India with a level of passion few South Africans would believe possible for a mere game of cricket.

They will have come to see an Indian side that could not fight its way out of a soggy roti six weeks ago, when they started a tour of Australia on which they failed to win any of the four tests and four one-day internationals they played. Then they took a break, and came back to beat Pakistan in their World Cup opener in Adelaide on Sunday. How had the Indians managed to reverse their fortunes?

“I did hear one of them say that the eight days they had off was very important for them to freshen up mentally,” Domingo said. “That could have been part of it, but we know they have some of the best players in the world.

“They’ve had a tough tour of Australia, but it’s not the tour of Australia that is probably at the top of their list – the World Cup is their priority.”

SA’s first priority will be to put their best XI on the field on Sunday, and the good news is that Dale Steyn trained yesterday after missing Wednesday’s session with what was either flu or sinusitis, depending on which team source you believe.

Steyn will be vital to SA’s chances of success, and he might have a point to prove. Although he has gone for more than a run a ball in his last 10 ODIs, he has taken as many as three wickets in only two of them.

And getting batsmen out will be the only effective antidote against an attacking Indian batting lineup. Virat Kohli – who scored 107 against Pakistan – is the epitome of that approach. Steyn versus Kohli – imagine that. On Sunday, 100 024 people will not have to imagine.

-Telford Vice

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