Johannesburg: It may appear an insignificant one-off Twenty20 international, but Friday's match at The Wanderers presents top players from India and South Africa an opportunity to oil themselves before the fifth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) begins in less than a week's time.
India have travelled all the way to South Africa to commemorate 150 years of the settlement of their countrymen in the country by playing an inconsequential Twenty20 game against the hosts. While the idea of stuffing up an already cramped international calendar defies logic, the two respective boards – the BCCI and CSA - agreed readily to put their already tired players through unnecessary rigours.
In light of India having just completed back-to-back tours of Australia and Bangladesh and the South Africans having returned from New Zealand, this one-off affair just days before the IPL commences appears to be a formality that could have been avoided. However, that's not how Indian skipper MS Dhoni looks at it.
The match presents top Indian and South African players an opportunity to oil themselves before the IPL.
"I don't think fatigue will be a real factor. We all enjoy playing the IPL ... that's one format where you are not representing your country, and the span of the tournament is slightly longer, so you play quite a few games," he said after the team's arrival in Johannesburg.
India's form going into this match has swung from pathetic to average, while touching the brilliant mark like a flash in the pan. After suffering twin overseas Test disasters in England and Australia, any hopes of an uplifting Asia Cup were dashed by a tragic loss to Bangladesh that ejected India from the tournament despite big wins over Sri Lanka and archrivals Pakistan. Thus, when compared to South Africa - who won the Twenty20, ODI and Test series on their tour of New Zealand - India's form appears pale.
On the team front, the hosts have rested most of the players from the New Zealand T20s, retaining only eight from that party. The senior-most batsman Jacques Kallis, though, has been included in the squad - largely because he is scheduled to be honoured after the match – and it is foreseeable that he will bat in the top three, perhaps even opening with Richard Levi who in New Zealand smashed the fastest century in Twenty20 internationals.
In the absence of AB de Villiers, South Africa are likely to play Morne van Wyk as wicketkeeper in place of Cape Cobras' Dane Vilas, yet to play an international match. van Wyk, who has played 13 ODIs for South Africa, last played against India last year when he smacked a national record 50 off 24 balls in Makhaya Ntini's farewell game. In the domestic Twenty20 competition, he is the second-highest run-scorer with 423.
The other uncapped player in the 13-man squad is the Titans' allrounder Farhaan Behardien, but he too may remain sidelined if South Africa opt for Justin Ontong and Albie Morkel. The bowling will comprise of the captain Johan Botha, Wayne Parnell, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Twenty20 specialist Juan Theron.
In contrast to South Africa, India are at full strength, other than Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan, who were rested for the Asia Cup as well. Robin Uthappa is the only new face in the squad, replacing Sachin Tendulkar, who doesn't play T20 internationals. Uthappa is likely to open the innings with Gautam Gambhir in the absence of Sehwag and Tendulkar.
South Africa: 1. Jacques Kallis, 2. Richard Levi, 3 .Colin Ingram, 4. Morne van Wyk (wk), 5. Faf du Plessis, 6. Justin Ontong/Farhaan Behardien, 7. Albie Morkel, 8. Johan Botha (capt), 9. Juan Theron, 10. Wayne Parnell, 11. Lonwabo Tsotsobe
India: 1. Gautam Gambhir, 2. Robin Uthappa, 3. Virat Kohli, 4. Suresh Raina, 5. MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 6. Yusuf Pathan, 7. Irfan Pathan, 8. Ravindra Jadeja, 9. R Ashwin, 10. Vinay Kumar, 11. Ashok Dinda