1st ODI: India vs South Africa
As one-day international cricket goes, these are two of the top-four sides in the world.
Ranked second and fourth respectively, in fact, and as the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala welcomes both teams for the 1st ODI of three within a week, we can expect some 1st ODI 2020 highlights.
India dominated the recent test series, the Twenty20 has just finished level and the home team remain favourites for this.
However, there is one question South Africa have been asked before – can the tourists stop Rohit Sharma?– which they don’t have to worry about this time.
That is because while all-rounder Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan have returned to the home side’s ODI squad after recovering from their respective injuries, Sharma – who sustained a calf injury in New Zealand last month – is not part of the 15-man squad.
They are still extremely strong, of course, in what is essentially the completion of the multi-format tour which took place last September and October when they contested three T20s and a trio of Tests.
After this, the ODI series will move to Lucknow for the second game on March 15 and the third in Kolkata on March 18.
Yet any team would miss a talent like Sharma.
Virat Kohli questioned the desire and application of India during the Test series against New Zealand and he will be hoping those issues do not bleed into this short one-day series.
The two-time world champions have been subjected to a gruelling start to 2020 and will have played 23 matches across all formats against four different nations by the time this series has concluded, so a dip in performance is to be expected.
While this is essentially a warm-up for the India Premier League which begins at the end of the month, Kohli’s criticism following the Tests, coupled with South Africa’s recent revival, means some freshness has been injected into the contest.
After displaying evidence of green shoots of recovery during the white-ball series against England, South Africa produced their best performances of the season to whitewash Australia in their one-day international series.
Their initial 15-member squad included Faf du Plessis, who returned to the ODI squad for the first time since the World Cup, having been rested for the home series against England and Australia.
Left-arm spinner George Linde earned his maiden ODI call-up, in place of first-choice spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who is unavailable owing to the birth of his child.
They certainly return to India six months on as a rejuvenated outfit and ready to better a return of one win from six matches on their last trip.
But have they progressed far enough to cause a surprise?
I’m not so sure.
In this format, India and South Africa have faced each other a total of 85 times. South Africa have got better of proceedings on 46 occasions, while India have won 35 matches
Let’s not forget South Africa have traditionally fared quite well in India.
Yes, they went down to a 3-0 series defeat just over three years ago, but they drew the two-match series in 2009/10 and the three-match series immediately before that.
You have to go back to the turn of the millennium, however, to when they last won a Test match on Indian turf.
They won in Mumbai by four wickets in a thrilling contest which was all over inside three days.
The second test in Bengaluru was even more emphatic as South Africa recorded victory by an innings and 71 runs.
Of the last 17 tests on Indian soil, the hosts have only been defeated in five – and that run stretches back to 1992.
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