Posted by: rajeshkannan | January 29, 2010

India v South Africa Test Series Preview: Part 1

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.

India’s batting

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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  1. After watching South Africa against England and India v Sri Lanka I reckon India will win and win well.

    Even with injuries India appear strong while South Africa have questions about their opening pair and batting against spin as well as their lack of a quality turner.

    At least one of Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar or Dhoni will score big in each match and knowing South Africa’s fear of quality wrist-spin I can see Mishra troubling them every time he bowls.

    For me, India 1 or 2 nil.

  2. I donno..I am a bit worried about the Indian batsmen collapsing in one innings and that costing them the series.

    Great post, RK.

    The hype on TV (World Championship of Cricket) grates on my nerves.

    India needs to be wary of all three- DeVilliers, Duminy, and Kallis. The Indian pitches and bowling will suit all three.

    Dhoni’s first big test.He knows Sehwag must fire, and that Sachin should cash in.Can he facilitate that, once again?

  3. The Indian selectors have done a commendable job (words I never thought I’d write). A lot will depend on India’s bowling. If Zaheer gets Smith early (as he has done frequently in the past), India will be in good shape. If that doesn’t happen, we can look forward to many replays of Ishant baring his gums after being dispatched for four and Bhaji spearing it in at the batsmen’s pads.
    Dropping Karthik was the right decision (his twitchy demeanor and continued inability to take the ball cleanly do not inspire confidence) and should help allay fears of regional bias. It is hard to argue with either Vijay or Badri’s selection. I hope both come good.
    Duminy seems to be in a slump and Prince has not had a great time opening. Zaheer is the only Indian bowler with the combination of brains and brawn required to exploit these weaknesses. If he gets injured, India are sunk.

  4. Kumar, thanks. And I wish I could share Nesta’s confidence but I fear the same thing you do – the collapse. You collapse once, the test is gone, but if you score big, you might not necessarily win.

    I wonder how long it’ll be before some idiot starts grumbling about Kris Srikkanth being from Tamil Nadu and hence giving the two middle order slots to his TN boys. Absolutely the right choices, and I can’t wait for Badri’s overdue debut. Of course, I’ve probably jinxed him now.

  5. It’s remarkably easy to be confident when your own team isn’t playing!

  6. Vijay has done well whenever he got a chance, and deserves Yuvraj’s slot.

    I am not so sure about Badri being the best candidate, right now, to fill in for Dravid. Yes, he has scored all those runs in first class cricket, but has not really made use of his ODI chances. This will be his best chance.I hope he makes use of this one. He may not get another chance if he fails now.

    Wriddhiman Saha’s is the surprise selection for me. But, I reckon DK was sacrificed so that Badri could get a cap. Indian selectors still work on the basis of zonal quotas, when it comes to deciding on the vacant slots in the 15.

    The one selection I am very excited about is Mithun’s.Good call by the selectors to get the lad into the dressing room at least.

    RK, wait for a couple of seasons :) There will be one more player from TN to merit a cap. 16-year old Aushik Srinivas (slow left arm orthodox) is a very exciting prospect, and could well push Bhajji out of the XI.

    • Even I was surprised with Saha’s selection. I feel that Parthiv Patel would have been a much better choice. He’s still pretty young, has proven himself in the past, has experience, scored high at the domestic level and in my opinion, has a very sound technique that is superior to that of W. Saha.

  7. I think that Morkel will have a bigger impact on the series than Dale Steyn. His bounce can be disconcerting, especially on Indian surfaces where the batsmen won’t be expecting a lot of it. The South African batting, though some batsmen are struggling, is still a formidable force. The same cannot be said about Indian bowling, with Harbhajan bowling the way he is. When, in home conditions, your No. 1 spinner does not inspire enough confidence, its a sorry state of affairs.

    • Please do not refer to Harbhajan Singh as our Number 1 spinner unless you’re taking the piss. In an ideal world Mishra and Ojha would be in the XI with Harbhajan practising his dart-throwing skills at a British pub.

  8. Really whetted my appetite for a fascinating couple of matches (alas, I can’t bring myself to write series).

    My feeling is that the matches will turn on SA’s support bowling. Morkel, like Harmison, has an action in which there is so much to go wrong – and if it does, he’ll be Sehwagged and then be asked to block up one end with a soft ball, which he won’t do. Parnell is a big talent but young as is the new lad Tsotsobe is it? Jacques never fancies bowling (but he is very, very good, even now), Harris will be lucky to get a wicket, but JP might surprise the likes of Harbhajan and the late order.

    1-0 India.

  9. Great post! It was a little surprising to see only Badri added to the squad as a batsman. This has been a long long wait for him, but the other name I was hoping to see was Mohammad Kaif. I don’t see the point in adding Mithun to the squad, given that Tyagi is ahead in line and India will likely play two spinners anyway. Good for him though – he can only benefit from sharing the dressing room with Sachin and friends.
    btw – Love the BP-XI team too! (except for Kaif not being there) Good chance to see the next gen in action – especially Pujara, Pandey and Nayar facing up against Steyn!

  10. Steyne v Sehwag sounds very juicy

  11. So Gerald Majola doesn’t want his boys to be overworked and asks to scrap the tests but it’s Mr. Modi’s fault. Now that there are two tests there’s talk of the BCCI scheduling them because of India’s position in the rankings. You just can’t win over some people.

    • Couldn’t we just agree that everything is Modi’s fault, even when it isn’t? Makes things so much simpler

      • No :P

  12. I disagree on South Africa having the best bowling attack in the world. There isn’t much on offer once you get past Steyn and Morkel. I’d much rather take the Australian or Pakistani bowling attack, or an Indian attack sans Harbhajan.

  13. I’m just hacked off it’s 2 tests. Isn’t that criminal? No1 and no 2 in the world. What is going on?

  14. Great review, thanks.
    I agree Lou, only two tests is criminal.
    Not sure about this perceived weakness of the SA batting. True they’ve been less dominating since their away win in Aus, but Smith-de Villiers-Kallis-Duminy-Boucher is pretty damn impressive, and their tail can score a few too. Wouldn’t write them off too easily, even in Indian conditions.

  15. Ravi, With regards to Mithun, he performed well in the domestic circuit and deserves a look in. He might not get a game.

    Our fast bowling is pretty thin though. Sree is injured, Irfan and Munaf are incognito. Ishanth is still not back at his best. If Zaheer is injured… Well you get the idea. Like I said he might not get a game but he needs to be in the squad.

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