Spicy sandwich filling for ODIs

Sunday Times

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

IT’S about the bread. Not the filling. South Africans who rise early on Sunday morning might mumble something like that to themselves as they detour to the kitchen to make a sandwich on their way to consuming the first one-day international between India and SA being beamed into their homes from Kanpur.

One slice of that bread, the Twenty20 series, has already been tasted. It was fresh, fluffy stuff baked in the wider context of the World T20 in India next year. Better yet, for South Africans, their team played cricket that bubbled like yeast and won.

The test series is the other slice of that bread, and a staunch slab of sourdough it will be. But, right now, it is resting and rising slowly in a far pavilion and more than three weeks from being put into the oven.

And so to the filling: five one-day internationals over the next two weeks. They could be cheesy, as ODIs often are. But here’s hoping they won’t be limp as day-old slices of tomato.

If the press conference AB de Villiers gave on Saturday is an indication there could be something crusty in the mix.

Would he open the batting in the ODIs as he had done in the T20s?

“No,” was De Villiers’ unadorned reply. The question deserved no more than that considering he last took guard at the top of the order in this format in 2008 and has not done so in his last 123 innings.

But it said something about SA’s state of mind that their captain answered on his own terms and without indulging the obsession with such details that fuels Indian interest in cricket.

Another flame to cricket’s moths is any hint of a pattern. In the first T20 Ravichandran Ashwin bowled De Villiers with a delivery devoid of pace. In the second T20 he did so again. Ashwin has dismissed De Villiers five times in T20s – more than any other bowler. De Villiers has a T20 average of 22.88. Against Ashwin, that is cut almost in half to 12.40.

Dare those dots be connected?

“I don’t think Ashwin got me out in the T20s; I got myself out.” De Villiers said.

Yoh! Bring it on!

De Villiers managed to add “but he is a top class bowler and must be respected”. Too late – toothpaste, tube, out.

While SA are winning these are good things. That they did so after a rousing comeback in the first T20 and with stunning superiority in the second only adds to their confidence and to the home side’s consternation.

So India team director Ravi Shastri sounded disingenuous when he said: “We have had a good look in the two games and know what we can expect out of the South Africans.”

Expect a team who dig themselves out of holes. Expect a team who dominate. Expect JP Duminy to be central to both of those scenarios. Expect the newly arrived Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to be raring to go. Expect no maybe from AB.

Expect all that. But don’t expect SA to be half-baked.

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