Finally it’s here : the series that cricket fans have been waiting for . The # 1 Test side , India , takes on #2 , South Africa . With all due respect to English cricket fans who are cock-a-hoop about the Ashes , the England – Australia series has to take a back seat to this one . England are definitely on the upswing but the Aussies are in disarray and the England – Australia series is not what it used to be .
I just hope M.S. Dhoni’s men are up to the challenge . South Africa are playing at home and the seamer friendly conditions and their menacing pace bowlers will provide a stern test to the visitors. Before ZaheerKhan ‘s availability became doubtful, the cricket pundits had surprisingly labeled the series too close to call. I hope that they know something the rest of us don’t because to me South Africa would seem to be clear favorites , particularly now that India may be lacking the services of their best bowler.
Until pitches in India are made more sporting and afford more chance to pacemen , there will always be some doubt about the Indian batting abroad. The Indian batsmen have been in great nick against the Aussies and the Kiwis but that has been at home . How they will fare tomorrow at Centurion is anybody’s guess. It was a good move to send the Test stalwarts to South Africa ahead of the rest of the team so that they could acclimatize themselves to the conditions. It would have been even better if they have had a practice match ( or two) against local teams ahead of the First Test which begins tomorrow. On paper , the batting line -up looks formidable with Suresh Raina the only questionmark. They will need to be at their best to stand up to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, not to mention Jacques Kallis . I’m betting that they will… after a few initial hiccups.
As I write , Zaheer’s inclusion in the team for the first Test is still in doubt but I think he will probably be held out. In Zaheer’s absence, Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth will have to pick up the clack. For India to have any hope , Ishant will have to replicate the form he showed on the Australian tour three years ago and Sreesanth will have to confine his hostility to bowling instead of his extra -curricular hijinks. The South African batting line-up is no less formidable than the Indian one . Imagine J.P. Duminy not having a place in the side . Smith, Amla and Kallis are world class and de Villiers and Peterson are not far behind.India will be in for a long day in the field unless their pacemen can make some early breakthroughs.
For all those who point out that Tendulkar, Dravid and Co. have mediocre averages against South Africa , I would say that past performance is not always an indicator of how a player will do now. It may take a match or two for the Indian batsmen to hit their stride but I feel confident that they will do so , sooner or later.From 1 through 8 , the Indian side has players who can do damage and surely a couple of them will come good. My concern is more about the bowling and whether it has enough firepower to bowl out the Proteas twice , particularly since Harbhajan is likely to be a non factor and Zaheer a non-starter.
As a team , this side bears no resemblance to previous touring sides. Under the leadership of Dhoni and the guidance of Gary Kirsten , this Indian side has developed into a tough , professional outfit that hopefully will not crumble under adversity. My prediction for the series : 1-1, with South Africa winning the first , India one of the other two and one test drawn due to rain.
Incidentally , I find Andy Zaltzman’s Cricinfo blog a real hoot . Today’s entry ” Tendulkar’s Christmas Blues” has the funniest photo of Sachin Tendulkar that I’ve ever seen . About Sachin , Zaltzman writes , among other things ,” Tendulkar is the hot favourite to win the race to 50 Test centuries. He needs one more, and now leads Ricky Ponting by 10, has left early pace-setter Don Bradman spluttering in the dust, seemingly unable to respond, and still leads the fast-closing Harbhajan Singh by 47.” The rest of the article also has some gems . Who would have thought that cricket could be funny ?