On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

Acid Test For Indian Cricket

with 3 comments

The first real trial after India became the number one Test team in the world begins on Thursday at the SuperSport Park, Centurion. India has a poor record playing in South Africa with a solitary Test win in Johannesburg that came in their last tour as the only success in 12 Test matches.

After that win in Johannesburg came the debacle in Durban where bad light and intermittent rain combined to eat up about a day’s play and at best India had to survive about 60-odd overs to save the game and head to Cape Town maintaining their lead. Instead India’s top order crumbled and the team was sent packing in just 55.1 overs. The tail fought hard and showed that a mere 10 minutes or a dozen deliveries more by every top order batsman could have easily saved the game.

There are also many reasons that India should move towards embracing the UDRS as apart from the scars of that one series in Sri Lanka there is ample evidence that technology is good for the game. For example in the Durban clash and in the acrimonious Sydney Test the UDRS could have saved the wicket of Rahul Dravid, India’s best man when it comes to batting time, in the second innings.

The third Test in Cape Town sealed the series 2-1 in South Africa’s favour. India began that Test with a brilliant first wicket partnership of 153 runs as they demoted the out-of-form Sehwag and Karthik opened with Wasim Jaffer. At one stage India was looking good for a score close to 500 but Sourav Ganguly was left stranded after Sehwag departed for a well-made 40 at number 7. The last four wickets added just 19 runs and India was all out for 414.

SA replied with a gritty 373. India then did not stick with the opening plan that had worked in the first innings and brought Sehwag back to his slot and the second innings start was a disaster with both openers back in the hut with just six runs on the board. Another woeful batting performance ended at 169 runs and South Africa was back in the driving seat. Despite some magical bowling by Zaheer Khan who took four of the five wickets to fall, South Africa successfully chased the runs with five wickets still in hand. Prince and Kallis watchfully managed to negotiate a Zaheer on fire and between them played 193 balls for 70 runs.

The contest this time around promises to be edge-of-the-seat as India would mentally be better positioned having played some good cricket in the past three seasons. And the presence of Gary Kirsten as the coach with his vast experience of South African conditions would double the benefit for India. If India is in a position where they can play their first choice seamers then they have some advantage and can surprise the South Africans. Having bowled well is testing subcontinent conditions tirelessly for a while now the fast bowlers would surely love some assistance from the conditions.

In the batting line-up I would love to see Cheteshwar Pujara in the starting XI in place of Suresh Raina. Raina had a great start to his Test career but is having a prolonged hiccup right now and he’s still considered suspect against the short ball. Pujara has the added quality of a tighter technique and I believe he has a better chance of succeeding against the moving or the rising ball.

Finally it will all boil down to the engine room of this Indian team, its brilliant middle order. With a settled opening pair at the top it would be upon the veteran trio of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to build the advantage for India.

This is the acid test for India and it will reveal the true merit of their ranking as on current form Australia is a relatively-easier challenge than the number two ranked Proteas. This is a tough tour but India come to it with perhaps its best team that is also high on confidence and the next few weeks would reveal if they can break the South African jinx.

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3 Responses

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  1. This would be an absolutely vital series for India, and test cricket. These two teams are without doubt the top 2, India has never won a series in S.A yet they come with the best team possible to win in S.A conditions. This should be a fascinating series. Here are my thoughts on the critical factors you covered plus my two cents:

    1.On UDRS India’s stubborn approach shocks me. The chief culprits here are Dhoni, Tendulkar, and a BCCI that dare snot question them. Sachin in spite of all his great qualities on and off the pitch, can be absolutely stubborn some times, and has been opposing UDRS purely based on a shocking series in Sri Lanka. Rahul and Sehwag have batted for the UDRS, and judging by its success in other series, it is about time India complied. I have a bad feeling that a series marred by poor umpiring would one day open the eyes of the guys who run our cricket.

    2.Lessons from past series: Bat positively and creatively in the face of the choking line and length that S.A bowl. I recollect watching Rahul and Sachin crawl in that match in Cape Town, and they weren’t facing Donald or Pollock. They failed to take the initiative against Paul Harris and Kallis of all bowlers, and the negative attitude cost us that series. Of course it would help now that Sehwag is back at the top and in infinitely better form and mental shape as compared to that last series. Sehwag, as always is the key, but the rest of the batsmen have to ensure that on a day Sehwag makes a rapid 80 odd, they don’t crawl at 2 runs per over after that.

    3. Pujara Vs. Raina is a good debate, and frankly I do not have a conclusive answer yet. I have a hunch it is a decent gamble to play Raina, purely because he is attacking, he is left handed, and he plays spin well. So yes he would struggle against Morkel and Steyn, but if he survives that and is batting 20 odd, he would also charge out to Paul Harris. I would suggest horses for courses for now, and to play Raina in this series.

    4. Finally one point you have not deliberated in detail on: India’s bowling. I have always maintained that any time we play Zaheer, Sreesanth, and Ishant abraod when they are fully fit, that is a deadly attack. The key weakness being if and when one of them breaks down (Unadkat is a ridiculous selection, Umesh Yadav is decent, but raw), and the form of Harbhajan. Harbhajan as a bowler is a sick joke now, and on present form even Paul Harris or Sehwag are better than Bhajji.

    Either which way the result goes, I am sure it would be a cracking contest!

    Cheers!
    Vasu

    Vasu

    December 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    • Thanks for your nice comment Vasu and I agree with most of what you have encapsulated. It is quite a fascinating series and today is a very big day—the eve of the first Test before a long series starts. Gavaskar has at times called that this was the day when he found it difficult to sleep and that he slept like a log on the tour after that. Must be an eerie kind of evening for the players.

      Yeah they played Harris poorly that day and then later fell to him. I am sure they’ll try to play differently and Gary brings a lot of local knowledge. Many players going in advance was wonderful as without a tour game India would have struggled to acclimitise. My only worry is that the cream of our batting line-up is in the twilight of their careers and they may not be so light on their feet, which is important to quickly get in position on fast wickets. The positive is that they are very experienced and would be fully aware and working on how to counterbalance it.

      Our bowling will be on full steam only if we have a first choice attack; Zaheer’s the key and Ishant must find rhythm. Sree was a trifle unlucky against the Kiwis as he bowled much better than his figures.

      Harbhajan might have had a few off days but I think he’s a great bowler and a man for the big moment. Don’t forget he has done a lot to ensure that we’ve been undefeated at home in two seasons; he was the one who along with Zaheer turned the Kolkata Test against South Africa on its head. I wouldn’t judge him when he’s bowled on the first two days of a typical subcontinent wicket. He’s also saved games with the bat and that’s a bonus. Also he’s like a livewire in the team, a genuine character, and you need those sorts of guys on tough overseas tours.
      Cheers
      Deepan

      Deepan Joshi

      December 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm

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