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First ODI: India to face South Africa at New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg

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South Africa and India will play their first ODIs since the men’s World Cup at the Wanderers on Sunday, a fact they will no doubt want to use to draw a line under their exits from the tournament. And with a T20I World Cup just more than six months way, they may get away with doing so more quietly than usual in what could be relatively low key ODI rubber.

That said, quiet matches involving India have yet to be played. The focus is always sharper when they are around, for reasons that go beyond cricket. So besides anything else the result on Sunday, and in the other two games, will be taken as an indicator of whether or not a corner has been turned for the better.

Of the XIs in the sides’ last World Cup games, six of South Africa’s players are in the ODI squad compared to three of India’s. That illustrates the difference in the depth available to these teams. It also tells us they aren’t afraid to experiment.

Among the missing are Temba Bavuma and Rohit Sharma, World Cup captains both. As well as Kagiso Rabada and Mohammed Shami, their teams’ leading fast bowlers. And, of course, Quinton de Kock and Virat Kohli – batting icons of the age.

India will be happy to return on Sunday to the scene of their triumph on Friday, when they beat South Africa by 106 runs – the home side’s third-heaviest defeat in their 169 concluded T20Is – to square the series. But, importantly, the visitors’ champion in that match, Suryakumar Yadav, who hammered 100 off 56, has gone home.

T20Is are held up as a gauge for players’ readiness to make the step up to other formats at international level. For instance, will Rinku Singh’s 39-ball 68 not out in the second T20I at St George’s Park on Tuesday earn him a crack on Sunday? But these ODIs could also offer insights the other way around. Might Tony de Zorzi – who has appeared in two Tests and as many ODIs but no T20Is – be able to use them to stake a claim as an all-format player going into the T20I World Cup?

Maybe these questions will be seen as inopportune. In the pressure-cooker world of big cricket, we should welcome the room to breathe that this series represents. We are days away from the Test series, weeks away from the SA20 and months away from the IPL. Things that would seem to matter more are ranged around this rubber like some of Joburg’s finest thunderclouds around a patch of blue sky.

But, right here and right now, what matters is three ODIs that don’t seem to matter. For some – perhaps those who want to watch cricket for cricket’s sake for a change – that will matter most of all.

Squads:

South Africa Squad: Reeza Hendricks, Tony de Zorzi, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram(c), Heinrich Klaasen(w), David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Keshav Maharaj, Nandre Burger, Tabraiz Shamsi, Lizaad Williams, Wiaan Mulder, Ottniel Baartman, Mihlali Mpongwana, Kyle Verreynne

India Squad: Rajat Patidar, Sai Sudharsan, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul(w/c), Rinku Singh, Axar Patel, Avesh Khan, Kuldeep Yadav, Mukesh Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Tilak Varma, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Washington Sundar, Arshdeep Singh, Akash Deep.

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