If cricket fans can manage to swallow the politicking and focus solely on the cricketing action that is about to unfold between South Africa and India, there is much to get excited about. India’s new guard is packed with exciting talents. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks four players worth watching in the one-day series beginning on Thursday.
South Africa’s Indian summer is about to begin and although it remains littered with remnants of some argy-bargy between the two countries’ cricketing control boards, if politics can be shelved for just a little while, there is some really good cricket to be played. India have a squad of brilliant, young and exciting players as they continue their evolution from the old guard.
India’s cricketing stock is impressive and, although it’s unlikely that this tour will proceed with no mention at all of the politicking, to ignore the wealth of talent on display would be doing an injustice to these men. As many observers have suggested, perhaps the players themselves could have publicly said something about the current state of affairs, but that’s dreaming of a far-fetched Utopia, where England and Australia wouldn’t be the only two teams to play regular five-Test series.
Shifting focus to the actual cricket, there is much to get stuck into. In the one-day format, South Africa might have to battle their chasing demons once again while settling on at least a starting nine – since a consistent eleven seems to be an impossibility at the moment. India, the defending World Champions, are similarly working towards identifying players who will be part of that squad to travel to Australia and New Zealand in 18 months’ time. Although the names of the players below are probably familiar to many cricket fans, South Africans who have not been following the Indian team lately should keep an eye out for the following players during the one-day series.
Shikhar Dhawan should be a household name by now. In just 28 ODIs, he has notched up an average of 46.88 with a freakish conversion record of five out of five. He of the Dali moustache is an incredible stroke-player with a cover drive to make you drool. He oozes confidence which, despite his arsenal of traditional shots, often transcends into entertainment. The last time he played against South Africa, in the Champions Trophy in England this year, he scored a breathless 114. Although he is just a few games into his career, he epitomises the modern-day batsman. There certainly will be no love lost between him and South Africa’s pace men. Dhawan’s showmanship pitted against that of Dale Steyn is likely to be one of the most enticing clashes of the summer.
Ravi Jadeja became a $2-million baby during the IPL. He, too, boasts the twirly Dali moustache and, for the purveyors of spin, he is a delight – a left-armer who twirls the ball almost as much as the moustache on his face. When he made his Test debut earlier this year, a few eyebrows were raised. Although he had made his one-day debut in 2009, his form in ODI cricket was woeful in 2012, where he failed to pick up a single wicket in 10 games and had an average of 97.50. The idea of Jadeja as a Test player didn’t sit very comfortably. He repaid the faith of selectors, though, and picked up a bunch of wickets, including dismissing Michael Clarke on five out of six occasions. Just like that, a cult hero was born and during his Champions Trophy spells in England earlier this year, fans would sing his name across stadiums and in trains on their way back from games. Part of that jubilation was because of his performance; the est, perhaps, because there is something enchanting about the man. He took 51 wickets in 31 games in 2013 at an average of 23.17 and became the first Indian player to top the ODI bowling rankings since Anil Kumble did so in 1996. Jadeja’s accuracy and work rate is impeccable. Although many watchers might say, “Well, he’s bowled in conditions that suited him,” he proved during the Champions Trophy in England that he is immeasurably versatile. In five games, he picked up more wickets than anyone else, 12 scalps at an eye-watering average of 12.83 and he was one of just two spinners in the top 10 wicket-takers list.
Mohammed Shami made his ODI debut in January this year and in 17 games since then, he has picked up 21 wickets. Although those have come at a relatively expensive average of 34.14, Shami has showed all the right signs of being a genuinely exciting fast bowler, someone who will relish the pace and bounce of the South African tracks and someone who could really benefit from refining his skills in conditions that aren’t quite so unforgiving. Shami’s story is one of the few romantic tales that still exist in the modern age of professional sport where players are groomed and pampered from a young age at academies and high-performance centres. It’s wonderfully documented by Sidharth Monga on Cricinfo. In a very short space of time, Shami – with the support of his family and one cricket club – has gone from a scrawny boy who only wanted to bowl fast to a top bowler who has captured the hearts of many. And, although his biggest successes have come in Test cricket, he has the skill and technical know-how to make the one-day format work for him, especially in conditions that favour him.
Once upon a time, Rohit Sharma was known as Nohit, to emphasise just how useless he could be at, well, hitting. But Sharma is having an impressive year with the bat, averaging 55.19 in 25 games with eight fifties and two centuries next to his name. Of course, there are still doubts over Sharma and whether he has the technical ability to perform consistently, and he still far too often manages scores of between 0 and 30, having been dismissed for below 30 a total of 59 times out of his 106 innings. Those who have booked their spots in Camp Sharma will now have the chance to see how he performs in one of the toughest places to tour. He is relatively adept at shepherding the tail, but the tail itself will have an altogether different battle in the South African conditions. DM
Photo: India’s Shikhar Dhawan hits a six off the bowling of England’s Stuart Broad during the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham earlier this year. (REUTERS/Philip Brown)
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