Sunday’s game against India is one of the biggest in the entire Group stage of the World Cup. Adelaide hosted India’s match against Pakistan, which could have been sold out three times over, but this one is close to its 90,000 capacity and expectations are high.
The MCG is an incredible arena. You either get inspired or intimidated by it, depending on your personality. Or both. I scored my first Test century there and will always have the fondest memories. We are fortunate to perform in such an arena, in front of so many people.
The Indian players will have far more experience than the South Africans of such an atmosphere. The IPL will have seen to that. But many of the Proteas, too, will have played in front of 40,000 in Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata so they won’t be intimidated.
On the contrary, South Africans have been producing some of their best performances at this ground, having won seven out of eight ODIs and won the 2008 Test match which led to our first series win in the country in over 100 years.
Indian players will be inspired, too. Virat Kohli loves a large audience and M.S. Dhoni is bound to burst back into form. The obvious question is whether India’s bowlers will cope — or even enjoy — the cauldron of the MCG.
There won’t be much to encourage the spinners and the seamers are mostly rewarded if they can bring the pitch to life with some genuine pace. It isn’t a ground which naturally assists swing bowlers.
India may have to go with a tight, damage-limitation strategy from early on. If it bats second, it can chase a big total. But the bowlers must ensure it’s not beyond the batsmen’s reach.
If India bats first, it must guard against the loss of early wickets — which is easier said than done against Steyn, Philander and Morkel. It is always possible to recover from 30 for one after 10 overs, but much harder to come back from 50 for four. Being positive is good, but recklessness will cost the game.
There is an awful lot of cricket to be played in this tournament. The first few days have been enthralling — more so than many people thought. The Associate nations have given a better account of themselves than ever before, which makes it even stranger that the ICC is reducing the teams from 14 to 10 in the next World Cup. I suspect there will be another couple of upsets, which adds to the intrigue.
The players won’t be thinking about quarterfinals yet, but the management teams will — whatever they say. India and South Africa will want to win all their games to finish top of Group B. That way, they are likely to avoid Australia and the rampant Black Caps of New Zealand. This is a very important game.