East London (South Africa): Jolted back into action after the kick it received from lowly Kenya on Wednesday night, India will be back to its full strength against South Africa in a day-night game of the triangular One-day series on Friday.
Sufffering a humiliating 70-runs defeat with its reserves in action against Kenya at Port Elizabeth, India would be keen to get itself back into top gear before the final at Kingsmead, Durban, on October 26. Despite the Kenyan pyrotechnics on Wednesday, this is the last game of any consequence in the league and that too only to check out the respective strengths of the two teams who look far closely matched than had been anticipated before the start of the competition. Venkatesh Prasad, Reetinder Sodhi and Harvinder Singh will again sit out on the bench as Javagal Srinath, Ajit Agarkar and Virender Sehwag take their original spots in the team. India seems to have offloaded the reputation of being poor players on bouncy tracks and its batting has largely been impressive. It began with a record total of 279 for five posted at Wanderers and then whacked Kenya by 10 wickets in only 11.3 overs and in between posted a competitive 233 against the South Africans before getting bundled out by the Kenyans for 176. Skipper Saurav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar remain pillars of strength and there always is Rahul Dravid to fall back upon in crisis though on this tour youngsters like Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag are providing cameo contributions. Agarkar is a bowler rediscovered and threatening to make a meaty contribution with the bat sooner than later. Srinath, after his initial waywardness for which he received a scathing criticism from his skipper, is now getting back into the groove. With spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh striking the right notes in tandem and youngsters pulling their weight, the team seems to have acquired the right balance in every department of the game. The visitors' fielding has been an eye-opener on this tour and after that early let off to Herschelle Gibbs by Ganguly himself at Centurion in the lung opener, the Indians have hardly made a mistake on the field. The reverse is true of the South Africans, who dropped no less than seven catches by the time their first three games were through, and their reputation as an outstanding fielding side has taken a knock. The South African batting is too heavy on all-rounders with Shaun Pollock, Nicky Boje, Lance Klusener and Justin Kemp asked to do what their batters should have been providing in the first place. To add to their worries is the question mark over the fitness of opener Gary Kirsten who missed the game against Kenya at Kimberley because of a thigh strain but is expected to be fit on Friday. Kirsten has been crucial to South Africa's plans as his unbeaten 133 at the Wanderers illustrated and more often than not, South Africa is the winner when he and his partner Herschelle Gibbs are firing on all cylinders. South Africa's bowling too is struggling to settle down and in a desperate bid, fast bowler Mornantau Hayward has been drafted in the One-day squad, leaving out Andre Nel who has been asked to go back and play the first class matches to iron out his rhythm and pace worries. Hayward had struck a nasty blow on Ganguly's right index finger for Nicky Oppenheimer's XI in the tour opener at Randjesfontein and had also got Tendulkar out in his very first over. But then he pulled out of the South Africa 'A' team against the visitors at Benoni because of a viral fever. Extras:
We'll not repeat, Ganguly assures fans