India A's all-star batting line-up may have dominated the recent triangular ODI series with their South African and Australian counterparts, but they may find themselves under a bit more pressure when they take on South Africa A in a four-day game at Olympia Park in Rustenburg starting on Saturday (August 17).
The limited-overs matches were played on the largely lifeless pitch of the L.C. de Villiers Oval at the University of Pretoria, but this first four-day match takes place 115km west of the capital in the historic town of Rustenburg, scene of many battles in the Anglo-Boer War and the home of the Royal Bafokeng Nation.
The bowlers may well earn some respite from the battering they have suffered thus far, judging by the South Africa A team's match against Australia A at Olympia Park at the beginning of the month, which saw the hosts win by seven wickets after bowling the opposition out for 146 and 277.
Nevertheless, Cheteshwar Pujara, the India A captain, said his team would go into the contest with plenty of confidence. "Winning the limited-overs series does help boost the confidence and the way we played was very good. Our batting unit did a really great job and that was our strength. In the final, the bowlers stood up and did the job for the team," Pujara said in Rustenburg on Friday (August 16).
The captain also added that going from limited-overs matches to four-day cricket in the space of just three days would not be a problem for his side.
"It won't be difficult adapting. More than half-a-dozen of us have played for the Indian Test team and we are experienced enough. We play a lot of four-day cricket in India with ODIs in-between and the IPL. It's just a matter of getting the correct technique," said Pujara.
The match will be played under the watchful eye of Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, who arrived in Rustenburg on Friday.
"In November and December, India will be back here for Tests and ODIs, so most of our team will want to prove themselves and produce a performance that puts them in the squad. For me, it will also be important to listen to whatever suggestions he (Fletcher) has," Pujara said.
India's limited-overs prospects look superb: the national side has won eight ODIs in a row against the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, as well as winning the Champions Trophy in June, while the A side claimed the triangular series title. The Test team is coming off a 4-0 thrashing of Australia, so Fletcher has no real excuse for his typically glum face.
While Pujara and Murali Vijay have strung together a host of good scores in recent months, this series is important for another Test incumbent batsman, Ajinkya Rahane. He scored just one and seven against Australia in the final Test of that series and the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Ambati Rayudu are piling on the pressure with consistent run-scoring themselves.
The intensity of the action in Rustenburg is guaranteed by the presence of South African fast bowlers such as Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell, and batsmen JP Duminy and Dean Elgar, who are angling for places in the South African Test side.
Duminy has been in superb form since returning from a nine-month absence due to an achilles tendon tear and he will be eager to win a recall to the Test side for the first time since November 2012 in Brisbane, where he suffered the serious injury.
Elgar has been the South Africa A team's best batsman during this winter series and he will be equally determined to hang on to the place he earned in Duminy's absence, but did not totally solidify as his own with an average of 32 in six Tests.
India A can expect swing-friendly conditions at the start of the game, but their spinners can look forward to more and more turn as the match progresses. Simon Harmer, the South Africa A off-spinner, took 8 for 87 in the Australia A second innings.
If India A can survive the first morning - Australia A were bowled out in 37.5 overs on the first day of their game in Rustenburg - then conditions could be very much to their liking.
South Africa A: Justin Ontong (capt), Kyle Abbott, Temba Bavuma, Andrew Birch, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Ayabulela Gqamane, Simon Harmer, Beuran Hendricks, Reeza Hendricks, Wayne Parnell, Rilee Rossouw, Thami Tsolekile, Vaughn van Jaarsveld, Stiaan van Zyl.
India A: Cheteshwar Pujara (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Parveez Rasool, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mohammed Shami, Stuart Binny, Ishwar Chand Pandey, Jaidev Unadkat, Siddharth Kaul.