After losing another Test series in Proteas land, India will be looking to reclaim the World No 1 ODI team tag when they take on South Africa in the upcoming six-match series, starting in Durban on Thursday, 1 February.
South Africa is currently on top of the ICC ODI team rankings with 120 points, just one ahead of India, who is at 119. Three points behind India is England at 116.
Virat Kohli-led India can top the ODI table if they win the series by 4-2 or better.
South Africa on the other hand, just have to draw the series to retain the top spot.
However, if South Africa win the series by 5-1 or better, India will slip behind third-placed England by a fraction of a point.
India vs South Africa ODI Series
1st ODI: 1 February, 4:30 pm IST
2nd ODI: 4 February, 1:30 pm IST
3rd ODI: 7 February, 4:30 pm IST
4th ODI: 10 February, 4:30 pm IST
5th ODI: 13 February, 4:30 pm IST
6th ODI: 14 February, 4:30 pm IST
With only 14 months to go for the 2019 ODI World Cup, India will look to kick off their preparations in earnest during the series. At the same time, the Men in Blue will be intent on winning their first-ever bilateral ODI series on the South African soil.
India have previously lost 5-2 in 1992-93, 4-0 in 2006- 07, 3-2 in 2010-11 and 2-0 in 2013-14. They were also part of two triangular series in 1996-97 and 2001-02, featuring Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively, but the Proteas emerged victors on both occasions.
So much so, India’s ODI record against South Africa in South Africa is heavily skewered.
In 28 meetings since 1992-93, the Proteas have won 21 matches, while India has only won five. Such a poor record will not sit well with the current team management that is intent on improving India’s all-around showing in overseas conditions.
Additionally, India has a very lop-sided ODI record at Durban. In seven ODIs against South Africa at this venue, since 1992-93, they have lost six with one no-result. India did beat England and Kenya here though, during the 2003 ODI World Cup, giving them an overall two wins in nine ODI at Kingsmead.
India also has a proud ODI record to protect. Since losing 4-1 in Australia (January 2016), the Men in Blue haven’t lost a single bilateral ODI series, home or away.
In this interim, they have beaten Zimbabwe, New Zealand (twice), England, West Indies, Sri Lanka (twice) and Australia, winning 24 out of 32 bilateral matches.
Their only tournament loss came in the 2017 Champions Trophy (in England), where they lost to Pakistan in the final.
As such, the team management will be relying on optimal selection to get this six-match series off to a good start.
With the return of Kohli after missing the ODIs/T20Is series against Sri Lanka in December, there is only one middle-order spot to be decided.
Shreyas Iyer gave a good account of himself, scoring two half-centuries in three matches against Sri Lanka, and is a front-runner for the job. But experience could be of greater value herein, with Dinesh Karthik and Manish Pandey also in the running.
On 1 February, the pitch bore a brownish look ahead of the game, in keeping with the rainfall Durban has received of late.
Showers are forecast for Thursday’s game as well. It might have a bearing on how many spinners India go in with.
If the visitors play only a lone spinner, Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav could get the nod ahead of both Axar Patel and Yuzvendra Chahal, to counter the threat of big-hitting left-handers David Miller and JP Duminy in the middle-order.
Only one spinner would also mean that Kedar Jadhav is assured of a starting spot, thanks to his part-time bowling.
South Africa too, meanwhile, have an eye on the upcoming World Cup. AB de Villiers is set to miss out the first 3 ODIs due to an injured right index finger (sustained during the third Test).
Farhan Behardien is usually their go-to batsman in such situations, but he wasn’t called upon this occasion. This is indicative of the Proteas’ team management eyeing different combinations.
Durban-born batsman Khayelihle Zondo can expect to make his debut instead. The other option is to open with Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock and give Aiden Markram another opportunity in the middle-order, wherein he had scored 66 on ODI debut against Bangladesh at East London (October 2017).
The Proteas are expected to go in with only spinner – Imran Tahir.