The Pink ODI is a special event in South Africa, played to support the noble cause of raising awareness for breast cancer. Not just the entire South African team and support staff, the audience that packs into the habitually sold-out Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg also gets into the festive spirit with a majority donning pink to support the cause.
It’s a day of festivity and South Africa’s One-Day International team have risen to the occasion magnificently in the past, most famously when AB de Villiers smashed the format’s fastest hundred against West Indies. They have beaten Pakistan, India, West Indies, England and Sri Lanka in the five Pink ODIs that have taken place. In between, they’ve also beaten Australia at the venue, though that was not a Pink ODI.
On Saturday (February 10), the South Africans will face India in the fourth game of their six-match series knowing that nothing short of an outstanding performance will keep them alive. Perhaps at no point before, have South Africa so needed to win the Pink ODI.
Being 3-0 down, wracked by injuries, with complete befuddlement the only response to the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, South Africa did receive a shot in the arm with de Villiers confirmed to be fit and available for the match. De Villiers has been particularly devastating in Pink ODIs, having hit 77 off 47 against India in the December 2013 one, 128 off 108 against Pakistan in March 2013, and 60 not out off 61 against Sri Lanka in February 2017, in addition to the incredible 149 off 44 against West Indies in January 2015. Against England in February 2016, he made 36 off 27.
But that is all in the past, and as Chris Morris said, “We’ve got that record but records speak for nothing, simple as that. We’ve got to come out tomorrow and do the business.”
Morris said that the added factor of this being a do-or-die match for South Africa would mean increased pressure, but welcomed the added edge. “It’s natural pressure. We’ve obviously got an unbeaten run in the Pink Day that has added a little bit of pressure which is cool,” he held. “Obviously it’s do or die for us now. If we lose one more, that’s the series gone. So we’ll be fighting for every single ball, every single run out there. Yeah, lot of pressure but what’s cricket without pressure? It’s boring.”
For India, they are on the verge of a historic series win against a team already down on morale and ideas. India have quickly settled into such well-oiled rhythm that most of the team enjoyed a day off on Friday, the eve of the match, with only Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep, Shreyas Iyer, Ajinkya Rahane, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami and Hardik Pandya turning up for practice.
The South Africans, of course, had a full session, and will likely have several more sittings with video analysis to combat the threat of Kuldeep and Chahal. They will also have to find a way past Virat Kohli, who has stacked up 318 runs in the series so far and been dismissed only once. Because of Kohli’s mountain of runs, the Indian team has seemed a little over-dependent on him, but it’s also true that with the performance of the top order being so dominant, it’s not like the middle order has had a great many opportunities to get a good knock in.
What India will be focussing on is the prospect of stitching up the series. “It’s huge. If I am right, no other (Indian) team has come to South Africa and won a one-day series,” said Bharat Arun, the bowling coach. “To us, we are on the brink of it, if we do it, it will be really huge. There is always a first time and we hope this is it.”
For South Africa, the hope is that the occasion makes them lift, as it has in the past, because without raising their games the home team don’t look like coming within a shot of victory. “I keep harping on how special of an occasion it is,” said Morris. “It’s really good. My first Pink Day we saw I got some runs, won the game. Last year Dwaine Pretorius came in and got a four-fer and won the game for South Africa as well. So you know it’s a special time.
“I think… I always joke about that… when people go and play at Lord’s, they put on special performances because you are playing at the home of cricket. Tomorrow is such a massive day for South Africa. People arrive for the occasion and they turn it on for the occasion. Like I said, we have had a good run in the last couple of years for the Pink Day and hopefully we can do the same tomorrow, but would be quite nice to see a youngster put his hand up tomorrow and win the game for us tomorrow.”
The Indians said they respected the cause and the occasion too. “When we came to South Africa, we said this is going to be our home for the next two and a half months,” said Arun. “And we are going to imbibe the culture and be a part of this country. We do support the cause. Tomorrow it’s a great cause, from our point of view we will go and play our best cricket and provide the right entertainment for the crowd.”
India will be chasing history, while South Africa will be aiming to keep it intact. South Africa may have a winning streak of six ODIs at the Wanderers and a spotless 5-0 record in Pink ODIs, but as India showed from the first match onwards, past performance counts for very little in present results.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Shikhar Dhawan, MS Dhoni (wk), Shreyas Iyer, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Ajinkya Rahane, Shardul Thakur.
South Africa: Aiden Markram (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Lungisani Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Khaya Zondo, Farhaan Behardien, Heinrich Klaasen (wk).