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South Africa in India 2007-08
'Harbhajan Singh has got a lot to prove'
March 25, 2008
Sanjay Manjrekar previews the three Test series between India and South Africa
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"It has been a while since Harbhajan bowled a decisive spell in Tests" © Getty Images

Sanjay Manjrekar: In 24 hours, we'll see the start of the first Test between India and South Africa in Chennai, the first of the three-Test series. When you really look at it, it [the series] hasn't quite created the buzz that you normally see when a top team in the world - like South Africa - takes on India. That is purely because the nation is still recovering from the celebration and the sense of elation that they had after India's tour of Australia. That is just about to subside as we get in to this series. Also with the Indian Premier League [IPL] making such a big noise in the world and with the whole nation talking about the IPL, this India-South Africa series is hidden somewhere between the two events - the post-Australia fever and of course the impending IPL.

It is a bit unfair to a team like South Africa, which I said is one of the tough teams and, when you look at the rankings, they are not too far behind India in the points table.

One of the things that I have had against South Africa has been that they are a tough team when they are playing at home but when you see them in the subcontinent - in the last two or three trips that they have made to India and then twice to Sri Lanka - they aren't quite the same team as they are back home. Under Hansie Cronje, I thought that team played superbly even in India and I remember they had a phenomenal series in Sharjah, but I think this team will have to prove itself in these [Indian] conditions.

From what I hear, the pitches are going to be flat - that will really test the Indian bowling. The Indian bowling in Australia was sensible and they used the conditions pretty well. Now in India they will have to have a different approach. They can't be bowling line and length and be sensible. They need to create something extra to get wickets on Indian pitches.

If the pitches for the three Tests are going to be flat, the Indian spinners will come into a lot more focus because to produce that something extra, you need the spinners to get you 20 wickets in a Test. I think Harbhajan Singh has got a lot to prove and this is an excellent opportunity for him to make an impact. He hasn't quite made an impact in Tests for a while now. If you remember, he arrived on the scene and made a name for himself by winning Tests for India. It has been a while since he has bowled a decisive spell that has made all the difference in a Test. He still has the ability and at the moment there is a lot of support for Harbhajan following the events in Australia. So he should use that attention to boost his self-confidence and to get back to his match-winning ways that made him such a popular cricketer. So that is as far as Harbhajan is concerned.

The seam attack once again looks a bit thin but the spirit of the Indian team might just make this attack look quite good. [It is] another good Test series for Anil Kumble.

As far as South Africa are concerned, they just have to prove to people like me that they are willing to compete and play hard even in the subcontinent. The last time I saw them in Sri Lanka, they was a little disappointing and not quite up to my expectations.

The three-Test match is another great opportunity for the Fab-Four as we call them - the batting stalwarts of India. They will be playing in home conditions and it is a great chance for them to collect some runs. Rahul Dravid has a chance to get back into full form. I see the experience of the Indian batsmen coming to good use unless somebody like Dale Steyn gives them a bit of a surprise.

So yes, let us look forward to some traditional cricket for the next four weeks because after that we will be swept by the IPL for sure.

For the moment, I think India is the more fancied team in this competition. But I would like to see South Africa spring a few surprises to make the cricket a bit more exciting.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar

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