February 25, 2000

Indians have their task cut out

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The scorecards of both India and South Africa do not reflect the true nature of the pitch at the Wankhede Stadium. Twenty-five wickets have fallen already at the end of the second day's play, the majority of which cannot be attributed to the guile of the bowlers. Ironically there were a lot of wicket taking deliveries bowled without the appropriate results. The Indians are tottering at 75 having lost half the side and they have to really work hard in order to win the Test.

Tendulkar did nothing wrong in the first five sessions of the Test starting from the toss. He had to play the familiar role of holding the Indian innings together in the first essay and he did it with his customary efficiency. Not even the most outrageously optimistic individual would think of an Indian side sans Tendulkar. Despite his fighting knock the Indians would have been embarrassed but for the last wicket partnership between Agarkar and Karthik. Tendulkar proved he was human in the second knock when he misread the in-ducker from Cronje to be plumb in front.

The lack of confidence is highly evident in the Indian batsmen and the over cautious attitude as a result is only putting the bowlers on top. Dravid is still uncertain with regard to the right approach and the team desperately needs him to play out of his skin to put India in the driver's seat. Ganguly's dismissal was soft in the first innings and he threw his wicket away after getting set in the second. His presence was of great significance as he was playing his shots and the double left-arm spin attack of the South Africans would have been nullified. The knowledge that he had to get runs to stay back in the side made Jadeja look really a shadow of himself and it appears that he will once again be out of test cricket at least temporarily.

A strange feature of this match so far has been the success of part time bowlers. Cronje and Kallis struck vital blows during the Indian innings and surprisingly enough they were able to move the ball appreciably. Tendulkar got into the act after the South African openers, Gibbs and Kirsten put up a good partnership. The inability of the South Africans to play spin bowling was exploited by the Indians but the absence of a third spinner might have a telling effect in the fourth innings.

Regardless of how the Test turns out from now on, the Indians have really gained a good cricketer in Murali Karthik. His self-confidence is a refreshing sight and he has done himself proud in the little time he has played so far. He is the sort of cricketer to be nurtured and his apparent confidence should not be misjudged as arrogance and held against him. At the moment the team needs more self-confident cricketers like him to provide the much-needed fillip. Karthik will have a big role to play and has the chance of becoming a hero straightaway if he can spin the South Africans out cheaply. Going by the Indian second innings in progress, the spinners will have only a reasonable total to defend.