JOHANNESBURG: India kick off their tour of South Africa with three ODIs, the first of which will be played at the Bull Ring here, on Thursday. The scene is set for an enthralling contest, what with India's supremacy in the format providing a nice counter to their traditional inability in seaming conditions.
Captain MS Dhoni, having led his team through a grueling practice session at the Wanderers ahead of the first match, admitted that he was expecting a cracker of a contest.
"If you love the ball coming on to the bat, that's what you will see" Dhoni told reporters.
India arrived in South Africa on Monday with one of their least experienced squads for an overseas assignment. Six players from the present squad, however, toured South Africa in August as part of the India 'A' team to gain precious familiarity with the conditions. The conditions and pitches they encountered then, however, were drastically different from what they can expect in December.
India, the No.1 team in ODIs, have had a terrific run this year with a string of wins at home. South Africa, au contraire, have struggled to maintain their consistency, their most recent result being a 1-2 loss to Pakistan at home.
Match for administrators
The fate of the impending tour was also in disarray over the past few months, with the BCCI and SACB at loggerheads on several issues. Asked if the administrative build-up to the series would have an impact on the kind of reception his team could expect in South Africa, Dhoni was typically tongue-in-cheek.
"We can arrange a match for the administrators and let them have a go. We were busy playing cricket. We had nothing to do with it. The relationship between the players of the two teams has been really good."
The series was initially slated to have three Test matches - a fitting length for the top two teams in the world - but was later cut down to just two Tests, after India decided to squeeze in Sachin Tendulkar's farewell series against the West Indies. But if Dhoni was desirous of a full-fledged competition between the two strong sides, he chose to downplay it.
"I don't pay that much attention to how many games we are playing because we have quite a busy schedule. We need to respect the schedule we have. What is in our hand is two Test matches," he said.
The last time India were in South Africa, in 2010-11, the Indian captain had a terrific time (from the team point of view), with his team drawing the Test series 1-1, and narrowly going down 2-3 in the ODI leg after having led it 2-1.
Dhoni, meanwhile, also inked a whopping Rs.25 crore bat deal with Spartan Sports and Amity University, to join an endorsement lineup that includes Australian Test captain Michael Clarke and Olympic gold medal-winning Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice.
The range of bats, called '7 by MSD', is expected to hit the market soon and the hefty remuneration places Dhoni - after Tendulkar's retirement - as the biggest and most marketable name in contemporary cricket.
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