Familiarity breeds contempt. We all have heard that phrase before. But in the cricket’s lexicon, it is paraphrased to something less gloomy: ‘Familiarity breeds confidence’. It is a mantra for coaches and a lesson for players: through repetition comes competency. The more times you execute a skill, the more familiar you are with it. The more familiar you are with a skill, the more confident you are of executing it under pressure.
Which is why India go into Saturday’s World Cup game at Leicester against South Africa with a sliver of confidence. This year, the two sides have played each other with the kind of frequency India men used to play Sri Lanka. Five times in the last six months they have met, twice in the ICC women’s World Cup Qualifiers, and thrice in the Quadrangular Tournament which the Proteas hosted. Out of the five encounters, India won four, including the finals of both tournaments. The one game that South Africa did win broke India’s 16 match ODI winning streak, denying them a world record.
Both teams have improved considerably since the World Cup in 2013. In part, the improvement is due to the number of matches they played: India played 36 in that period, as compared to 26 between the World Cups of 2009 and 2013. South Africa played 58 games, more than any other nation. So Saturday’s match is between two well-tuned sides who know each other’s SWOT analysis by heart.
“It (the familiarity) helps a lot” said South Africa skipper Dane van Niekerk. “We have played them quite a lot in the past. It makes it easier with plans. We know where they hit, how they bowl, we have faced them a lot more than the rest of the world.”
The familiarity also means that it is more difficult for the two teams to tactically surprise each other. “Maybe there may not be much of a surprise factor”, said Mithali Raj. “But again (it depends on) how well each one of us executes our plans.”
One player that South Africa have not seen much of is fast bowler Mansi Joshi. She has played India’s last two games, but went for 7.2 runs per over in five overs against Sri Lanka. India might be tempted to bring back Shikha Pandey, who has a stellar record against South Africa. Pandey claimed 3 for 19 and scored 59 in her first ODI against them, and averages 46 with the bat and 14 with the ball in 7 games.
South Africa Form guide:
In the nets at Grace Road, South Africa had four pace bowlers in operation, while their spearhead Marizanne Kapp did not have a bowl (she rarely bowls in the nets before the match). They are likely to persist with the four-fast (five if they use Chloe Tryon) and two-spin combination that they used in the last few matches.
The bowling unit has had a mixed showing; they shot out the West Indies for 48, but they were taken for 373 by England. More disconcerting for India will be the fact that South Africa scored 305 in an attempt to chase England’s total, the highest ODI score by a chasing team.
“We are not playing our best cricket and still breaking records”, said van Niekerk. “It tells us something about the team we have, and the chance we have.
“It was good to see that we crossed the 300-run mark. For the batswomen that is a huge confidence booster. Obviously from now they now see that can be done.”
India Form guide:
India come in as the only undefeated team besides Australia, although they have had an easier first half of the tournament. With four wins, they need one more to qualify for the semi final. Considering they play the favourites, Australia and New Zealand after this, they will be keen to book their place sooner rather than later.
Leicester might also witness Mithali Raj break the two biggest batting records. She needs 34 runs to pass Charlotte Edwards as the leading run scorer in ODIs, and 41 runs to breach the 6000 mark, and elevate herself into singularly extraordinary territory.
Two South Africans, Lizelle Lee and Tryon sit second and third on the most sixes in ODIs list. Tryon also registered the fastest World Cup half century in the last game. And overall, South Africa are the fitter team, which could make a difference as the tournament enters its third week.
India’s spinners have taken 22 wickets in the four matches so far. And Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur come into the game due for runs.