Hopeful augury for Indians

Woorkheri Raman

February 23, 2000

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The Indians have had just about enough time to lick their wounds inflicted by the Australians `Down Under'. The only option left for the Indians is to look ahead if they are to achieve anything in the series against South Africa. Believe me, they have to achieve quite a bit in order to redeem themselves. The pressure is on Tendulkar and his boys since they are playing at home and it is a must win situation for them.

It is apparent that the dismal show in Australia still rankles badly, what with Tendulkar relinquishing the captaincy. He has been man enough to accept the responsibility for the poor show and only the thoroughly cynical will venture to connect his decision to the recall of Azharuddin. Tendulkar has at least given enough time for his successor and the selectors to prepare themselves.

The Test matches against the South Africans will prove to be tougher this time around. Cronje and his men know exactly what to expect in India and that will be a major difference to their mental make-up. The one big advantage they have is the presence of genuine all rounders in the side. At the same time, their batting has been unpredictable in Test cricket.

A comparison of both the sides would project a few basic differences - fielding, quality of fast bowlers and the overall toughness. Agreed that the slow pitches in India would really test Donald, Pollock and Hayward but they still can be a handful. The one weakness in the South African side will be the lack of a quality spinner. Paul Adams will be missed as he has got a good record and he would have been really useful on Indian pitches.

The fortunes of either side will largely depend on the success of the batsmen. Considering that the Indians are playing in familiar conditions, the batsmen have to ensure that the bowlers are given enough runs to dismiss the opponents. Ramesh will be out of action in the first Test which is unfortunate as he has proved to be a key figure at the top of the order. Dravid will be more determined to set the record straight after a poor run in Australia. To be fair to him, this has been the only series he has failed so far. Jadeja will be at the pivotal No 6 and hopefully he will establish himself in Test cricket.

The Indians will rely on the traditional strength - spin. The trio of Kumble, Kartik and Chopra would be expected to win the series for India. It may not be a daunting task as the Springboks are not exactly the masters when it comes to playing spinners on helpful pitches. Gibbs, Cronje and Kallis are the better players against spin while Cullinan is not particularly fond of the slower variety. Mark Boucher will have a major role to play for the South Africans on either side of the stumps.

The pitch at the Wankhede stadium generally has a fair bit of carry and the fast bowlers should have something in it for them on the opening day. As usual, the first session will dictate the course the match will take and along with it the series. One certain fact is that it will be an absorbing series and India has to win, come what may. The Indians can be hopeful as the South Africans are neither as versatile as the Australians nor are they playing at their best.

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