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Form faces reality check as India lock horns with South Africa at Bullring

India,dominant at home,is expected to find the going tougher on SA soil.

From a distance you might have wondered whether they were players from the same team going through the grind in the nets. Dale Steyn had the customary green helmet and pads on. While on the other side,JP Duminy looked slightly less conservative with his pink pads. In between Steyn and Duminy though,Ryan McLaren had gone for the whole hog,a pink helmet and pads of the same shade.

Incidentally,the lanky all-rounder was the only one fulfilling the brief on the eve of ‘Pink Day’ — to promote breast cancer awareness — at the Wanderers on Wednesday morning. The colour depicts universal love but has largely not made a noteworthy presence on the cricket field,except when the West Indians were forced into them during the Packer World Series or when Middlesex who donned it briefly as their T20 colours.

But Thursday will witness AB De Villiers and his team walking out in fully pink apparel for the second time this year in an ODI. And the colossal Wanderers itself was a sea of pink-with everything from hoardings to banners showing it off — as it was being set to host the first of three ODIs between the hosts and India. Despite the range of colours on view in the nets,the three South Africans,just like those who had occupied them earlier,seemed collectively intent on showing no mercy to the net bowlers.

The white ball was sent flying into orbit repeatedly,especially by Duminy. The side pole of the net and the solitary stump near the bowling mark didn’t receive much love either from Steyn as he smashed both with his bat after a seemingly unsatisfactory stint with the bat – probably a warning for the Indian batsmen come Thursday.

Their generally affable skipper was in all-guns-blazing form too in front of the mike soon after as he addressed the media — the backdrop behind him again pink in colour.

AB de Villiers was reminded of South Africa going into the one-dayers as underdogs — despite them having lost only five out of 25 ODIs against the world champions in their backyard.

“There is no chance that we can afford to be called underdogs against anyone in South Africa. We cannot stand back and allow that to happen,” said De Villiers,his eyes conveying the intensity of the statement.

UNDERDOG TAG

The underdog might have a lot to do with the recent series loss to Pakistan and India’s dominant run in 2013 where they’ve won close to 80 per cent of their ODIs,including the Champions Trophy in England. But South Africa has been a bugbear for many generations of Indian batsmen. De Villiers said that he was keen to remind his team about that.

“We need to remember we’re playing against a sub-continent team,who’ve had a very bad record here and there’s no need for us to stand back,” he said,making no bones.

And there’s ample evidence in the numbers of the batsmen in the present squad on South African soil to back De Villiers’ sentiments.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni himself averages only 23.77 in nine matches in these climes. While Yuvraj and Raina,both not amongst the runs during the home series,average 16.66 and 19.16 respectively with one half-century between them. Rohit Sharma a forgettable 9.80 in five innings. Not surprisingly,the one man who does have happy memories of South Africa with the bat in the 50-over format is Kohli,who scored two half-centuries when India toured here last and also averages a healthy 48.25 in five matches.

But De Villiers wasn’t done and also insisted that his batsmen,despite their untoward outings against the Pakistanis would be out to make the most of the Indian bowling’s inconsistencies.

For starters,none of the bowlers in the squad have bowled in an ODI here before. And not everyone is a bundle of confidence in ODIs going into the series. Mohammad Shami might be here on the back of a golden start to his Test career and having been the only bowling hero for India during the run-fest against the Australians. But Bhuvneshwar Kumar wasn’t at his wicket-taking best against Australia or West Indies,and Umesh Yadav was left out of both ODI squads in India.

Mohit Sharma is still only a handful ODIs old while Ishant Sharma could consider himself lucky to be here post a horror showing against George Bailey & Co. Ironically,the Indian bowler with the best record in ODIs in South Africa is with the team,but Zaheer Khan,picked in the Test squad,will have to watch the game from the sidelines.

Ravindra Jadeja,despite his unprecedented success in England will have to contend with the ball coming onto the bat easily and with the Wanderers pitch unlikely to provide him with much grip.

The fickle Johannesburg weather might have a say too,but the showers so far have been intermittent and haven’t lasted long enough to pose an overwhelming threat to the match. But the battle lines have clearly been drawn. It now remains to be seen which team will be seeing life in the pink before they head to Durban for the second ODI.

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