| Asia’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virender Sehwag during a practice session in Bangalore on Tuesday. (AP)
Bangalore: It may be shorn of some big names, but the first one-day International in the Afro-Asia Cup between the combined continental cricket teams promises fireworks aplenty at the Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Wednesday.
The pullout of some leading players from both teams has weakened Africa more than the host continent who seem to have a clear edge in the best-of-three matches, the last two coming up on June 9 and 10 at Chennai’s M A Chidambaram Stadium.
Africans are being led by Justin Kemp after stand-in captain Mark Boucher had a Bangalore belly on Tuesday. Boucher was to lead in the absence of the injured South Africa captain Graeme Smith who is recovering from a knee operation, and look weak in both batting and bowling.
Fast bowler Makhaya Ntini did not arrive here to be with his wife, who has recently delivered a baby.
The explosive batting combination of Sanath Jayasuriya, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be hard to stop by an African bowling line-up missing Andre Nel, Andrew Hall, Jaques Kallis and Shaun Pollock (to play only as a batsman).
The match also provides an opportunity to former India skipper Sourav to showcase his worth in the 50-over format after he was “rested” for the preceding one-day series in Bangladesh along with the man he replaced him in the Asia XI here — Sachin Tendulkar.
The Calcutta stalwart comes into the match on the back of a century scored in the two-Test series against India’s eastern neighbours.
Sourav has been provided the ideal chance, along with Sehwag who has not fired for a long time, to grab the selectors’ attention with a good display here and in Chennai ahead of the June 13 team selection for the off-shore matches in Ireland and Scotland.
Sourav may even be given his slot right up the order along with veteran Jayasuriya, unless Sehwag or Sri Lankan Upul Tharanga is preferred for the spot.
Yuvraj Singh and Pakistan’s Mohammed Yousuf are available to shore up the middle-order along with captain Mahela Jayawardene, and wicketkeeper Dhoni.
Dhoni has the added incentive of grabbing third place in the ICC rankings for ODI batsmen if he produces some solid performances during the series of three matches.
The Asia new-ball attack also looks potent in the hands of Zaheer Khan, Dilhara Fernando, Mashrafe Mortaza and Mohammed Asif, who will be seen in action after a lengthy gap after missing the World Cup due to injury.
The Asians come into the series after some matches between themselves but the African combine faces a bigger problem on this count as none have played any competitive matches after the World Cup.
The players also arrived here late last night, which gives them very little time to adjust to the hot conditions here. The pitch at the venue has been re-laid with the mixture of clay and fine sand will take time to bind and a virgin pitch is always an unknown factor. The toss could thus play a vital role.
Weather disruptions from rains are still a possibility, but it did not rain on Monday even though there was a canopy of dark clouds in the skyline of the garden city late in the evening.
Asia (from): Sanath Jayasuriya, Virender Sehwag, Upul Tharanga, Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Sourav Ganguly, Mohammed Yousuf, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Dilhara Fernando, Mashrafe Mortaza, Mohammed Rafique, Mohammed Asif.
Africa (from): AB de Villiers, Loots Bosman, Justin Kemp (captain), Johan Botha, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Boeta Dippenaar, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Steve Tikolo, Thomas Odoyo, Elton Chigumbura, Vusi Sibanda, Peter Ongondo.
Umpires: Peter Parker and Tony Hill; TV: Amish Saheba.
Match Referee: Chris Broad.
Match starts: 3pm.