A series of intriguing head-to-head battles will play out within the war, when the Proteas clash with India in Sunday’s World Cup Pool B fixture at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Wayne Parnell v Mahendra Singh Dhoni
The Proteas are probably going to sideline Imran Tahir or Farhaan Behardien and draft in an additional seamer. Parnell, who brings more with the bat than Kyle Abbott, is the preferred pick. Love or dislike him, the left-armer boasts a penchant for securing key breakthroughs in the middle overs – and toward the death of the innings. He’ll likely face finisher aficionado Dhoni during these crucial periods – and a true test of steel awaits. The willow-wielding Indian, so-called ‘helicopter shots’ and all, could make or break Parnell’s campaign.
Gary Kirsten v Duncan Fletcher
Away from the field, behind the scenes, days and hours before the match begins, the coaching personnel will play integral parts in Sunday’s showdown. Kirsten has been there and done that, having won the World Cup with India in 2011. He now consults for the Proteas, largely on his own terms, no longer influenced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Fletcher, seemingly, is always fighting for his job. The BCCI’s confidence in him ebbs and flows. Triumph over one of the tournament favourites, in conditions far more suited to the South Africans, will maintain faith – for now. Kirsten’s relational approach and Fletcher’s dogmatic demeanour are very noticeable among the younger players they have influence over.
Morne Morkel v Shikhar Dhawan
Dhawan’s troubles against short-pitched bowling were well documented through late 2014 and a weakness outside the off-stump in early 2015 is growing. Morkel, as the lankiest of the Proteas seamers, will surely exploit the left-hander with several bouncers – and will enjoy additional carry from the Melbourne Cricket Ground pitch. The shouldn’t shy away from the challenge, hooking and pulling rather than bobbing and weaving, while the bowler will need to quickly gauge whether the ploy is viable.
Hashim Amla v Mohammed Shami
Ishant Sharma’s injury has left Shami as the only bowler with genuine pace in India’s first-choice XI. He accounted for Amla’s wicket on three consecutive occasions in December 2013’s ODI series in South Africa – and will be mindful of the resumption in rivalry 14 months later. The Proteas have plenty of support waiting in the wings, if Amla fails, as was the case against Zimbabwe, but the same cannot really be said for Shami. The successful spearhead against Pakistan, and a commanding leader to fellow seamers Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma, Shami will require another stand-out performance.
Faf du Plessis v Ravindra Jadeja
Gone are the days of the pedestrian Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag, with numerous Indian players no longer seen as liabilities in the field. The new, athletic school has arrived – and Jadeja is at the fore. The talented all-rounder boasts a veritable rocket arm from the deep and is a coveted asset in the inner ring. Du Plessis, meanwhile, is arguably and unassumingly South Africa’s best fielder all around the ground. While ODI results are characteristically measured by the best batsmen and bowlers of the day, the margins saved in the field are as valuable.