Colombo, Oct. 2 -- India have earned a lifeline with their win over Pakistan, but it will count for little if they fail to back it up with another strong showing against South Africa.
From their experience so far, India will be careful not to get carried away by Sunday's game. The Men in Blue showed lot of spunk against their arch-rivals, but the same lot had looked jaded and dispirited in their previous outing against Australia.
This tournament has seen things change from game to game and over to over. It can be put down to the nature of the format or India's volatile nature.
In two games, they have fluctuated between the very good and the very bad, and a study in comparison will help them choose the right combination for the opposition and conditions.
South Africa and Pakistan are as varied as chalk and cheese. So what worked against the latter might not be the ideal template against AB de Villiers' men. There is a risk in changing the winning combination but there's a good case of adding an extra spinner at the expense of a pace bowler.
Proteas' weakness against spin has been exploited with telling effect so far, so despite L Balaji's success, Harbhajan Singh can be considered. "It's horses for courses. Whatever suits the conditions best, we will look to adopt that. It depends on what kind of wicket we play on next. We've not decided on the playing XI for the game," said MS Dhoni.
India got their batting line-up right against Pakistan with Virender Sehwag returning to the top of the order. The message was not lost that the opener was playing his first Super Eights game and it turned out to be the team's first win of the stage after the inaugural edition in 2007. Though he had not touched the bat in four days, the opener was in his elements against the new ball, setting up India's chase with a 74-run partnership with Virat Kohli.
Given the lethal South Africa's pace attack, playing out Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will be the decisive phase of the game, increasing the focus on the role of Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.
One thing is for sure. Given how Australia used the short ball so effectively against them, India should be braced for a bouncer barrage from Steyn & Co.
Then there will be the Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton factor to deal with. The SA coach has worked with each member of this India team and every weakness will be on South Africa's table, technical as well as in the mind. Jaded after being on the road for three months, the Proteas have looked much weaker, but they are still the No 1 ranked team in T20, and with a few changes in the line-up they could turn up a completely different unit.
The pressure is really on, and whoever handles the nerves will stay alive. Duncan Fletcher's instructions to his team are simple: Stay away from the hype and take it as just another match. The Men in Blue were nerveless and fearless against Pakistan. It's time for an encore.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.