March 7, 2021. 10% capacity spectators at the Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow.
India’s much-anticipated return to cricket is all set to happen with them playing international cricket after almost a year when they take on South Africa for the first ODI at the Ekana Cricket Stadium in Lucknow on Sunday (March 7).
In the one year of their inaction, a lot has been changed in the world in general and in cricket, in particular, owing to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Both sides are in a bio-bubble, South Africa have already successfully returned to international cricket while India will be hoping for the same having been on the receiving end of so much speculation and confusion regarding their return to international cricket since the historic night at the MCG.
Once the wheels were set in motion and India’s squad was announced, all the non-cricketing talk disappeared into the background with the very nature of the squad sparking a lot of debates with the inclusions and especially non-inclusion of some of the players. Six new players have been named in the squad with four of the players from the T20 World Cup final XI being omitted from both formats.
India have been the better team in the format with their superior record, having won 14 of the 22 ODI they played against the Rainbow Nation. But past records will count for zilch when both sides take on the field on Sunday with South Africa being the form side and India will have to find ways to shake off the rust having played only the four-match T20 Challenge in November 2020 in the one year. The visitors on the other hand returned to international cricket in January this year when they blanked Pakistan 3-0 in the ODI series and 2-1 in the T20Is before travelling to India.
“It has been a long break for us, but sometimes things are not in our control. Now that we are getting some cricket to play, we will make sure to utilize it better and get our combination right for the upcoming important matches,” Harmanpreet Kaur, vice-captain of the ODI side, said during a media interaction on Friday (March 5).
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31-year-old Kaur and India last played an ODI in November 2019 when they travelled to the West Indies before the focus was shifted to the T20I format and subsequent pandemic restrictions put a lid on their international assignments. She will be making her 100th ODI appearance when India take the field on Sunday, the fifth Indian to do so.
Allrounder Sune Luus will continue to lead South Africa in the absence of regular skipper Dane van Niekerk. 25-year-old Luus believes that the game time they had against Pakistan will hold them in good stead in the series and they are hoping to use it as an advantage.
“We have had game-time behind us, and I do not think they have had that, which I am hoping will be an advantage for us,” Luus said on Monday (March 1).
The Ekana Cricket Stadium will be an unknown quantity as there hasn’t been much international cricket played at the venue and this will be the first time it will be hosting a women’s international match. India are expected to field a strong spin-pronged attack regardless of the conditions while South Africa will be banking on their experienced pace duo of Marizanne Kapp and Shabnim Ismail to lead the bowling attack.
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In the absence of seamer Shikha Pandey, who has been rested according to Kaur, Mansi Joshi will pair up with veteran Jhulan Goswami in the seam department and the trio of Poonam Yadav, Deepti Sharma, and Rajeshwari Gayakwad is likely to be the tweakers to play the first game. Uncapped Monica Patel and Prathyusha C might have to wait for their chances.
On the batting front, both teams are fairly settled and there aren’t many changes expected in the first choices sides. The only change for India will be the return of wicket-keeper Sushma Verma in place of Taniya Bhatia.
Will India be able to start well without letting the long break affect them or will it be South Africa, taking advantage of India’s rustiness to make the first move in the series?
India: Mithali Raj (c), Smriti Mandhana, Jemimah Rodrigues, Punam Raut, Priya Punia, Yastika Bhatia, Harmanpreet Kaur (vc), D. Hemalatha, Deepti Sharma, Sushma Verma (wk), Swetha Verma (wk), Radha Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Jhulan Goswami, Mansi Joshi, Poonam Yadav, C. Prathyusha, Monica Patel
South Africa: Sune Luus (c), Ayabonga Khaka, Shabnim Ismail, Laura Wolvaardt, Trisha Chetty, Sinalo Jafta, Tasmin Britz, Marizanne Kapp, Nondumiso Shangase, Lizelle Lee, Anneke Bosch, Faye Tunnicliffe, Nonkululeko Mlaba, Mignon du Preez, Nadine de Klerk, Lara Goodall, Tumi Sekhukhune