It might have won the tournament twice and finished runner up once, but India have never beaten South Africa at the World Cup. Three times have the teams met at the mega event, and three times have South Africa won, notwithstanding generally decent performances from the Men in Blue (well, dark blue the first time around in 1992, and lighter shades in 1999 and 2011).
Can this drought be brought to an end? Well, yes – all India need to do is score more runs than the South Africans. But that slice of cricketing common sense apart, these six tips could come handy in ending the Protean jinx. Yes, they might sound a little out of the box, but then one day cricket is all about innovation, isn’t it?
Notice something about India’s three defeats? The Men in Blue always batted first. Yes, the South Africans bring on the implosions more often when they tend to bat second – they have lost four of their five matches in the knock out stages of the World Cup while batting second (the exception being when they batted first against Australia in the 2007 semi-final). So hot tip one for MSD and his boys: bowl first, if you win the toss. If you lose the toss, quickly shake the hand of your counterpart, and say “Oh hell, you have won the toss. Fine, we will bowl first!
Do NOT score too many
Yes, you read that right. The feet of clay of the might South Africans become most apparent when they have to chase relatively small, seemingly gettable totals. Give them a big total to chase and they will chase it down in an organised manner, feeling they have not much to lose if they fail. Put them in a winning position, as Australia did in 1999 and New Zealand did in 2011, and in creep the jitters. So switch the batting order, pack the side with bowlers, and hope to reach 200 and not 300. Impose fines on batsmen who try to bat at anything more than a run every two deliveries and go beyond the sacred mark of thirty five. And then sit back and hope that nerves do their work.
Bring on the rain
The weather forecast says that it will be cloudy in Melbourne when India and South Africa meet. If those clouds drip, half of India’s work is done. For, if past history is anything to go on, all that is needed is a spot of rain during the match for chaos to make itself felt in the South African dressing room – remember what happened with the rain breaks and revised targets in 1992 and 2003? So, do the rain dances, open the umbrellas, look up at the sky in apprehension, turn up at the toss sporting a tilak and say that the team was conducting a havan for rain…anything to make the Proteas start looking at two most feared gentlemen in cricket: Duckworth and Lewis! And ah yes, if possible, tamper the D&L sheets.
Make South Africa the favourites
All right, so this goes against the grain of the ‘We Won’t Give It Back’ slogan, but a word from the cricketing wise: uneasy lies the South African head that expects the crown. Unlike Australia, who almost revel in being the favourites, South Africa are distinctly jittery with the idea of being firm favourites when it comes to cricket. So a few kind words at the toss and at the pre-match presser on how good the South Africans will do as much damage as a few quick wickets or runs. Give them the favourites status – and relax. They will give it back to you. On a platter.
Dedicate the match to a prominent South African player
Forget about the icy cold stare of Jacques Kallis. The South Africans have always been susceptible to sentiment. Their worst World Cup performance – and indeed their only first round exit ever – came when they tried to dedicate their World Cup to their former (albeit disgraced) skipper Hansie Cronje in 2003. They have done nothing of the sort so far, so perhaps Team India could pull a quick one on them and hint that they need to dedicate the match to someone, or maybe even do one better and themselves dedicate their performance to a South African. Imagine Virat Kohli saying, “I dedicate my performance to the man I blew a kiss to in the Pepsi ad. This one is for you, Jacques.” There won’t be a dry eye in the South African dressing room, and well, misty-eyed batsmen don’t get too many, do they?
Don’t sledge, sing songs…from MSG
All right, desperate times call for desperate measures. If things do not seem to be going their way, Team India should switch to the most unorthodox sledging ever seen on a cricket field. No, don’t cast aspersion on the paternity of your opponents or their lack of skill on the field, just quickly mutter songs from Baba Ram Rahim Singh Insan’s latest blockbuster, MSG (if you are not convinced, just try muttering “Forever meet God’s mastan forever, Not your form of a man never ever” at anyone). Slip in a fastish yorker or a wrong one while they wonder just what it was that you were saying. But yes, use the tactic sparingly and keep changing the songs. If they object, point out that you are merely uttering the words of a holy man. Which, of course, you are…