India v South Africa, 15 May 1999by John Polack
Given their status as two of the star attractions at this seventh World Cup, it should be the case that South Africa and India provide us with one of the more memorable of the early fixtures in this competition. Drawn to meet at Hove on the second day of this five week carnival, their clash is a tantalising fixture, for it pits a highly disciplined and ruthlessly South African unit against an Indian team which generally relies more for its success on stunning individual efforts than on the need for its players to complement one another perfectly at all times.
Each of these sides can consider itself particularly unfortunate to draw such a tough opponent in its opening match. In a tournament in which teams' early performances against quality opposition are going to carry more import than has ever previously been the case in a World Cup, a meeting at such an early stage does not allow either of the sides any margin for error. They will therefore have to be at the very best from the opening ball, a prospect which means that the players involved will have to overcome the limited opportunities for preparation afforded them by some disappointing early May weather in England and rise to this auspicious occasion with some immediacy.
On the basis of recent form, one senses that this may be an easier task for the South Africans, who have arrived in England in the wake of excellent series against West Indies and New Zealand. With Herschelle Gibbs and Daryll Cullinan growing in stature over the past six months (and providing the support that Gary Kirsten and Hansie Cronje have not been afforded as frequently as they should have been over their years of yeoman service at ODI level), their batting has a decidedly settled air about it. Notwithstanding the unwelcome distraction of Makhaya Ntini's enforced absence, their bowling attack also looks highly potent; Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock again forming an irresistible pace duo which will be backed by the likes of Lance Klusener, the brilliant all-round talents of Jacques Kallis, and the indomitable captain (Cronje) himself.
By contrast, India's lead-up efforts have not been quite so impressive some heavy defeats against Pakistan in the Asian Test Championship, in the Sharjah Cup, and in the Pepsi Tri-series headlining their performances over recent months. Naturally, their hopes in this event as so often is the case appear to rest squarely on the shoulders of their venerated batting genius, Sachin Tendulkar. But with the young master still on the recovery trail following a back ailment, those supporting the team will be hoping that the likes of Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Azharuddin can contribute just as effectively on this occasion. Javagal Srinath will again be the Indians' spearhead with the ball, while Anil Kumble will be looking to continue his generally excellent personal run of form of late, and the deceptive and enthusiastic Ajit Agarkar may be a surprise packet in seaside conditions which will almost certainly aid his ability to move the ball both ways.
In a sense, both teams disappointed their fans greatly when it mattered in the last World Cup. After looking to be the team to beat through the early stages, the South Africans folded miserably against their West Indian opponents in a quarter final in Karachi. India's exit came in even more inglorious circumstances in a semi-final on an unforgettable night in Calcutta; even their own supporters at Eden Gardens turning on them (in scenes which remain indelibly etched in the memory) following a batting collapse at the hands of Sri Lanka's cunning mix of part-time spinners. To that end, it is likely that incentive will not be lacking here, and that the urge to create some early momentum will be undeniably strong for both line-ups.
Why you should watch: This is the opening appearance from two of the star teams in this event. Both are littered with star players and, as long as Hove's weather holds, there will be no shortage of mouth-watering individual clashes. Of these (and if it arises), the battle between Donald and Tendulkar will be one that no serious cricket fan would want to miss.
Indian player to watch: Can't possibly be anyone else but the magnificent Tendulkar!
South African player to watch: Jacques Kallis one of the real rising stars of world cricket. Neutrals may care to enjoy: The never-say-die competitive ethos exhibited by the South Africans; and the superb natural strokemaking of the Indian batsmen. In addition, it will be fascinating to see how Donald and Pollock respond to the unenviable task of containing Tendulkar, Sadagoppan Ramesh, Ganguly, Dravid and Azharuddin.