If the predictably desultory and interminable India Sri Lanka contests of recent vintage were amped up as epic clashes, what would the Indian media hype machine make of a genuine heavyweight clash? To absolutely no one’s surprise, Amitabh Bacchan is being rolled out, promising that this is no less than a war (and plugging his movie at the same time). I fear for NEO Cricket in particular – with nine whole days to go, how on earth are they going to keep up the escalation and phoney war?
But hype aside, this is a genuinely intriguing clash, certainly the most anticipated in world cricket since the Ashes. It’s a crying shame there are only two tests, but we’ll take what crumbs Mr. Modi gives us. India’s injuries and South Africa’s turmoil just add more spice to a dish already approaching vindaloo standards.
Damn it, NEO’s rubbing off on me as well.
One of the great batting line-ups of all time (plus Yuvraj Singh) is decimated through injury, and Indians should be thrilled. Hear me out. At some point, Dravid, VVS and Sachin are GOING TO RETIRE – DO YOU HEAR ME? India, you may be in denial but it will happen, and there is no better time to blood the wannabe Steve Youngs to the current Joe Montanas.
It’s heartening that S. Badrinath, India’s own Stuart Law, will finally get to make his debut (though he’ll hope his career goes a little further than the Lawman’s). He’s been in the wings for long without playing even once, and bypassing him for the current flavour of the month, Virat Kohli, would have been grossly unjust. Here’s a guy who has impeccable technique and temperament, has 6000 first class runs (and that’s a lot in India, where they play far less first class cricket) at nearly 60, and has long reminded me and other, sager observers of Rahul Dravid. Dravid’s injury means he should (but probably won’t) slot in at 3, and look to make that spot his own after the Wall’s gone.
Vijay’s selection is easy – so allow me to spew some vitriol on Yuvraj. He’d be among the first names I’d pencil in for a World ODI XI. But 33 tests later, it’s clear that this Test lark is not his style – we hear about the same weaknesses against spin, against top class pace, temperament etc that we did six or seven years ago, and really, it’s time to go. He’s like a remote control battery which you lick to get you a week more, but you’ve gotta replace the battery at some point, and for Yuvraj, that point is now.
The rest of the bits are familiar. Tendulkar is busy delighting in the fountain of youth he seems to have stumbled upon. Gambhir is on a red hot streak, and while it’s true that he’s played on benign pitches during this streak, he can cross the Newlands and Gabba bridges when he gets to them. And I suppose it’s redundant to say that Sehwag can win a game on his own on the first day, so I suppose the only questions are – can he get to 300 again? In a day? Can anyone predict what this man can do? So, should we stop accounting for him in our preview calculations? All right, then.
South Africa’s bowling
Simply the best bowling attack in the world. Dale Steyn is already the next great fast bowler, and I think he has surged ahead of Mitch and Zaheer in their contest. At his best, his action and release are so smooth and slippery that Allan Donald couldn’t have done it better. Steyn (and Morkel as well) has experience of India’s conditions as well, and this will be crucial to South Africa’s chances.
Dileep Premachandran at the Guardian wonders what it’d do to Morkel’s psyche if Sehwag were to club him around, and he has a point. Morkel’s happy place seems to teem with the short pitched stuff, and if the pitch is low and slow, and Morkel reverts to type, Sehwag will simply slaughter him. I don’t think that will happen, though.
Morkel has graduated into a very fine, and thinking, fast bowler in the England series, and I suspect he’ll do just fine, by pitching it a bit fuller. The height he bowls from and the heaviness of the ball he releases should ensure that even a fuller ball, while not reaching the batsman at a great height, will be in a disconcertingly upward trajectory – AB de Villiers and JP Duminy could be busy in the covers.
I confess to have seen Wayne Parnell only in a handful of ODIs and T20 games, but he promises to be a handful – for the variety he brings as a left-armer, and the fact that 6 of the Indian top 7 are right handers, who definitely won’t relish the ball angling away from them at high speed.
Paul Harris and Jacques Kallis are handy customers to round off the (probable) attack. Harris struggled in India in 2008, and if he can’t act as a holding bowler, he’ll be the weak link. And what can I say about that ox Kallis? Here’s a guy who can bowl so well and with such pace and swing that he can get a place in most teams (certainly the Indian team) for his bowling alone. And then you think of his 10,500 runs at 55. But only for a second, because your brain circuits promptly melt from trying to comprehend the sheer enormity of this man’s achievements.
So, the world’s best batsmen vs the world’s best bowlers – I’m going to chicken out and split the difference. This is going to be a dead even contest, but with a gun to my head, I’d pick the batsmen. You know, home advantage and all that.
Part two will deal with the flip side – India’s desultory bowling vs South Africa’s stuttering batting. Also – sundries like fielding, pitches and the probable effect of South Africa’s turmoil on their performance. Stay tuned.
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