Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Eyes on World Cup spots as ODIs begin

The Test series between the top two teams in international cricket was meant to be this tour's biggest draw, but the ODI series that starts on Wednesday is almost as significant. Bilateral one-dayers are an after-party to a grand event, though not in this case with the World Cup just over a month away and with the teams required to finalise their fifteen-member squads for the event by January 19. Three of the five games in this series - the last official 50-over preparation for the two sides ahead of the World Cup - will be played out before the deadline and they are likely to influence the composition of the final squads.
Injuries to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have led to call-ups for Rohit Sharma and M Vijay for the ODI series, though Virat Kohli appears to have done enough in the middle order for his place to be in any risk. There is more competition in the bowling, with a possible tussle between Sreesanth and Munaf Patel for a spot alongside Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Ashish Nehra in the fast-bowling attack. Praveen's eleventh-hour injury gives Ishant Sharma, who had an ordinary Test series, another go at the one-day level, though he is almost certain to miss the first game. Piyush Chawla returns to the 50-over format after more than two years, but R Ashwin is the favoured second spinner in the squad, while Harbhajan Singh will look to build on his performance in the Tests.
South Africa have roped in legspinner Imran Tahir and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, as potential slow-bowling partners to Johan Botha; Colin Ingram, who scored a century on ODI debut, fills in for the injured Jacques Kallis at No.3, and could be in the running for a top-order spot in the World Cup, while David Miller will possibly be fighting for a middle-order slot along with the leg-spinning allrounder Faf du Plessis. The battle for the third seamer's position will be between Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell, though Ryan McLaren, not playing this series, has also done the job in the past.
South Africa, at home on lively tracks, go in as the favourites. The team coming on top will go into the World Cup on a high, but individual performances in this series could be just as important as the scoreline itself.

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