Rarely has the backdrop of a series been so dominated by background noise as it is ahead of the three ODIs between India and South Africa from Thursday to Tuesday.

The men’s T20 World Cup means none of India’s squad for the tournament – except for the reserve. Jasprit Bumrah is out for six weeks with a back injury. And that’s not the half of it: South Africa goes rubber under skies swirling with dark clouds.

Test Series in England

The visitors are in freefall from the last two matches of their Test series in England, which was overshadowed by the death of Queen Elizabeth II last month. Dean Elgar’s side lost those games on days three and two. Temba Bauma’s side was hammered so hard by the Indians in the first T20I in Thiruvananthapuram last Wednesday that in their second in Guwahati four days later, She lost by a small margin. Defined as a recovery. It made Tuesday’s third match in Indore irrelevant, along with South Africa’s too-little, too-late win.

India excited ahead of ODI series, emphasis on South Africa

But his supporters will be hoping that this win, meaningless as it was, will spark more of the same kind of brilliance in the ODI series. This is essential if South Africa’s chances of qualifying directly for next year’s ODI World Cup in India are not to disappear. They are currently above only Zimbabwe and the Netherlands in the 13-team Super League standings, which will determine the eight sides that will gain automatic entry into the tournament.

South Africa Wins

Even if South Africa wins all eight of their remaining World Cup Super League matches – three in India and five against Holland and England – they will have 129 points. Log leaders England already have 125 points with six games remaining. Australia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan also have six games remaining and have 120 points each. As hosts, sixth-ranked India need not worry about the standings.

That means South Africa is likely to be in contention for one of the three remaining berths. There are more points in between. New Zealand has nine more ODIs to seal their place, Afghanistan a dozen, and the West Indies have played all 24 of their matches. Whichever way the equation is tilted, it will be difficult for South Africa to avoid securing one of the two World Cup spots reserved for finalists in the qualifiers in Zimbabwe in June and July. For a team that has been to every World Cup since 1992, that would be humiliating.

South Africa Playing Best Cricket

As if all this is not enough to distract the South Africans from trying to play their best cricket. They are also carrying two elephants in their dressing room. The news, broken by Kirkbiz on September 12, that Mark Boucher will step down as head coach after the T20 World Cup – a year before his contract expires – comes seven days after the white-ball captain. A place with any of the six franchises that will contest the inaugural SA20 in January and February. Bavuma’s three runs off 19 balls in his three innings in the T20I series. He would only lend credence to the view that the franchise owners were right not to spend money on him.

India excited ahead of ODI series, emphasis on South Africa

Unpleasant realities like these will shake the best teams. Never mind a side that was already unstable before they woke up. Were those issues part of the dressing room debate? Not according to Jenniman Mullan, who said Wednesday: “We want to be like we’re in a submarine. All these things are out of our control; the outside noise. We want to have a good place inside. There’s a lot.” Going on but that’s life. All we can do is control the space we’re in and respect that. There’s not much talk about these things.”

Of course, India’s dressing room is similarly devoid of talk of foreign affairs, but only because there is no broadcast. With all the emphasis on the T20 World Cup and no problem qualifying for next year’s ODI version, Shikhar Dhawan’s side is free to get on with the game without worrying about what might happen if things don’t go according to plan.

Rahul Dravid’s Good Books

They won’t have to stay in Rahul Dravid’s good books either. The head coach has handed over the reins to VVS Laxman and, like his players, handed him over to Australia on Thursday to complete their World Cup preparations. Even the Indian team playing in India will be under less pressure. It should be, in a word, joy. Or as close as any Indian team playing in India can get to that happy state. How the South Africans will envy them when they peer through the periscope of their submarine.

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