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India eyes clean sweep against SA

Last updated on: February 26, 2010 15:38 IST

Herchelle Gibbs and Carl LangerveltIt will be very easy (and convenient) to dismiss the third and final One-day International between India and South Africa at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad as just another inconsequential match, even if it happens to be the first ODI at this venue since the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy and takes place just a day after Ahmedabad's 600th anniversary as a metropolis.

With the series already decided in the home team's favour, it would have sufficed to describe the scenario with the oft-repeated phrase, 'the visitors will only be playing for pride'.

But such a description would only mean half the truth.

For, this match in Motera is not just a matter of pride for South Africa, but also an opportunity to regain a virtue they lost somewhere in the middle of this tour -- confidence.

Flashback to the first week of this month and you will remember the South Africans having arrived on this Indian odyssey on a positive note -- having beaten England comprehensively at the Wanderers to square the four-match Test series 1-1.

The fact that their coach (Mickey Arthur) put down his papers just days before the trip and their selection panel was dissolved thereafter had little impact on the team's confidence.

Graeme Smith's men had a set target -- to beat India on home soil and reclaim the No 1 Test ranking that they had surrendered to their would-be hosts in November last year. And no impediment, it seemed, would have affected their confidence levels and distracted them from their ultimate goal.

The start was an auspicious one as well -- a confidence booster, so to speak.

South Africa not only did well in the tour game at Nagpur, but inflicted a humiliating innings defeat on the hosts in the opening Test -- well inside four days at that.

As the visitors boarded the flight to Kolkata there were positive vibes all around -- with even the harshest of critics predicting a first series' win for them in India in 10 years.

But from confidence stems over-confidence, and that, in turn, spells downfall.

And, to their detriment, South Africa completely lost the plot at the Eden Gardens -- India squared the series and held on to its top ranking.

What was further demoralizing was the news that their captain Smith was ruled out from the subsequent one-day series.

After getting themselves to the worst possible situation in the opening one-dayer at Jaipur, South Africa made a good comeback only to just fall short by a run.

And if that close defeat hadn't dented their confidence enough, the 153-run thrashing they received in the subsequent one-dayer at Gwalior certainly did.

More so because of the manner in which their bowlers were hit all over the ground and the inexplicable way in which their batsmen capitulated chasing a huge target.

In Motera, therefore, South Africa will be keen to regain at least some confidence besides attempting to end the tour on a winning note.

And helping them in this endeavour could be none other than their gracious hosts.

With the match being academic interest for them, India have gone ahead and announced their decision to rest Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag for the tie -- a double relief for the visitors for sure.

Their places in the squad will be taken up by Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay.

Also out are the bowling duo of Praveen Kumar (replaced by Abhimanyu Mithun) and Harbhajan Singh (given an extended rest).

In making the changes the hosts have clearly indicated their intent to try out the untested players.

And if South Africa are to conclude their Indian sojourn on a confident note when they need to do at Motera is simple: make optimum use of the opportunities offered to them by their hosts.

The fact that they inflicted an innings defeat on the hosts the last occasion they played at this venue -- the second Test during the 2008 tour -- might just provide the inspiration they need.

The match per se can be looked at from two different perspectives -- that India has everything to gain and little to lose. And that South Africa has definitely a lot to gain.

Bikash Mohapatra in Ahmedabad