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South Africa vs India: 1st ODI Preview

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Amidst much uncertainty over the scheduling of India's Tour to South Africa for the past two months and the controversial shortening of the tour, the Indian team arrived in South Africa on Monday for their month-long series. The first of the 3 ODI (One Day Internationals) games will take place at the Wanderers Cricket Ground in Johannesburg on Thursday.

India last toured South Africa in 2010-11 for three test matches, five ODIs and one T20 game. The test series ended in a draw at 1-1, while India won the only T-20 game on that tour. South Africa however won the 5-match ODI series 3-2.

This is India's first full-length (tests and ODIs) overseas series since they toured Australia in the 2011-12, playing their last game of that tour in February 2012.

India

India head to South Africa having recently competed against the West Indies in two test and three ODI matches, the last of which took place on the 27th of November. While the build-up to the contest between these two top-ranked teams has been dominated by off-field controversies, India skipper MS Dhoni addressed the press in Mumbai and Johannesburg on both sides of the team's 9-hour long flight and had to address a number of tricky issues over the build-up to the series, which is India's first bi-lateral overseas series in 22 months Dhoni instead stressed that the experience of playing against South Africa's high quality bowlers would do the young batting line-up a world of good and that he was confident of putting up a good show in India's first overseas series after Sachin Tendulkar's retirement from international cricket last month.

The Indian selectors announced a full strength 16-man squad for the 3 ODI games against South Africa, bringing in middle order batsman Ajinkya Rahane as well as pacer Umesh Yadav. It is unlikely that either will feature in India's starting XI for the short ODI series, though Dhoni would hope to give at-least a game to Ajinkya Rahane, who is also a part of India's test match squad on the trip. Shikhar Dhawan is the other Indian batsman who is yet to play an international game in South Africa, but with a prolific cricketing year behind him, Dhawan was upbeat and confident of India's prospects before heading to South Africa. "The pitches there will be good. It will be helpful for the bowlers and batsmen will also enjoy playing on the bouncy tracks. Our preparation will be according to the pitch," Dhawan was quoted saying. With the pace and bounce expected from the Wanderers pitch, India are all but certain to go with three pacers and one premier spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin. Ravindra Jadeja is likely to take the role of the all-rounder and fifth bowler in the Playing XI for the ODIs.

South Africa

South African cricket has not had a good past month, both on and off field. Pakistan registered a series victory over South Africa in South Africa in the ODI series, which included a narrow 1-run loss for the Proteas in the second ODI at Port Elizabeth. While the hosts managed to pull one back and win the last ODI of the series this past Saturday, skipper AB de Villiers would be aware of the challenge that lies ahead over the next ten days for his side. South Africa risk losing two consecutive home series in less than a month to sub-continental teams and surprisingly there has not been much of a build-up to the India series from the cricket fans in South Africa.

As for team selections for the first ODI, South Africa look all set to go with a full strength batting line-up and a pace heavy bowling attack. Jacques Kallis made a return to the limited overs format of the game after a gap of almost 21 months in the series against Pakistan and had scores 50 and 6 from his two innings, both in games which South Africa went on to lose. Kallis' vast experience and abilities as a top-order batsman are likely to come to the fore when South Africa take on a strong Indian team during the ODI series. The rest of the batting line-up for South Africa is likely to remain similar to the one which featured in the ODIs against Pakistan, with hard-hitting left-hander David Miller coming in at number 7. The bowling will almost certainly be South Africa's key department, and also be South Africa's best chance of coming out on top against India in the ODI games. Just as with India, South Africa will look to go in with three pacers and one premier spinner in Imran Tahir for the ODIs.

Likely XIs

India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (c&wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav.

South Africa: Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith, Quinton de Kock (wk), Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (c), JP Duminy, David Miller, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.

Key Players

MS Dhoni : Dhoni heads to South Africa this time round as India's second most experienced player in the ODI squad after Yuvraj Singh. Dhoni would be aware of the challenge that lies ahead of the Indian batsmen when they face against South Africa's bowling attack and would look to carry forward his relatively inexperienced squad through the tour. A series victory in South Africa would help stamp India's authority in the shorter format of the game, something that Dhoni would dearly love to achieve before the end of the year.

Dale Steyn : Arguably the quickest bowler in international cricket today, Dale Steyn will be up against perhaps his  toughest opponent this year. Steyn troubled the Indian batsmen during their last tour in 2010-11, and had a memorable duel with Sachin Tendulkar in the test series. Steyn has a formidable batting line-up to bowl at this time round to, and coming off with 9 wickets from 2 games in the series against Pakistan, he would be rearing to strike early and strike often for the Proteas.

Prediction: India have won over 90% of their ODI games in 2013, including the Champions Trophy triumph in England in June, and the Tri-Series victory in West Indies in June-July. The ODI series against South Africa, which has been reduced to just three games and will last only a week, will be India's last series in the year.

India are favorites to win the first ODI at Johannesburg with their current form and strength of their ODI squad, and look all set to take an early lead in the series.

Match Start Time : 11:30 GMT / 17:00 IST