Nothing could ever match the level of expectations that surround an India-Pakistan match, but from a pure cricketing perspective, challenges don't come much bigger than South Africa. And, fresh from their morale boosting opening game win over their arch rivals, what a statement it would be to the rest of the teams if India make it two straight wins Sunday at the MCG. People will really start looking at the reigning champions as a side that have truly overcome their recent woes.
Mind you, South Africa surely represent a much tougher opposition for India. When you look at this South African team, what immediately strikes you is their individual quality from top to bottom. Even when their dangerous top-order of Amla, de Kock, du Plessis and de Villiers missed out against Zimbabwe, South Africa were able to count on the brilliance of Miller and Duminy who produced a record-breaking partnership. So our bowlers, who really impressed me with their rhythm and form against Pakistan, face their sternest test yet.
Mohammed Shami bowled quick in that four-wicket haul and was well complemented by the likes of Umesh Yadav and Ravi Ashwin. They will have their plans in place to try and contain South Africa's explosive batters but the key will simply come down to how well they stick to the basics. I would like to see them bowl to their own strengths rather than adopt a pre-emptive approach against AB de Villiers and company.
It's no secret that the bowling remains an area of concern for India, which is why Dhoni acknowledged as much at Adelaide when he said it would surely have been handy to have got a further 10-15 runs. India's batting will, of course, be up against a formidable South African new ball attack which should be spearheaded by a fully fit Dale Steyn who was handicapped by a bout of flu against Zimbabwe. But again, while it would do them no harm to tread a bit cautiously at the beginning when the ball is more likely to misbehave, they need to play with a positive mindset.
One thing they did superbly against Pakistan was the quick running between the wickets that kept the scoreboard ticking. They will need to replicate that effort today, no mean task considering what an excellent fielding side South Africa are renowned for being.
If there's pressure on India as the reigning champions, there's just as much pressure on South Africa to finally get their name on the World Cup trophy. They've underlined their determination by roping in Gary Kirsten as a consultant as well as former Australian World Cup winner Mike Hussey. It's certainly good to bring on board all the expertise you can get, and Kirsten, of course, is no stranger to the South African or Indian camp having coached both teams. But could such high profile additions to the support staff add to the pressure on the players? I just wonder!
On a sidenote, I'm also looking forward to the honour of being presented with the ICC Hall of Fame commemorative cap during a special event at Sunday's game. That it will happen in front of a sea of Indian fans at a packed MCG makes it that much more special. It's thus an opportune time for me to again extend my heartfelt thanks to all those who've supported me during my cricketing career.
Source: PMG/GROUPM ESP