March 8, 2000

South Africa's all round strength is awesome

The Indians get into the one-dayers under a new captain in Sourav Ganguly. It is always a great honour for anybody to lead a national side, but Ganguly has got the job at the most difficult juncture possible. The performance of the team has been mediocre, to say the least, in the last few months and consequently the morale of the team is at its nadir. This is going to make Ganguly's job all the more difficult because the mental make-up of a team has a direct bearing on its performance.

Ganguly will be able to understand the psyche of the players better as he has been through the grind in more ways than one. Though naturally talented, he had to achieve success the hard way, which will help him in managing the team. He has shown this trait on the few occasions that he has led the side. One can only hope that he will somehow lift the team to better heights and thereby justify his elevation to the prime post.

A comparison of both the sides will reveal the huge difference in fielding as well as in versatility, with South Africa being way ahead in these aspects. The all round strength of the South Africans is awesome with Kluesner, Pollock and Crookes capable of doing the star turn. Another advantage is the ability of Cronje and Kallis to bowl effectively and Boucher is an all-rounder in his own way. The embarrassment of riches is evident with Cullinan and Donald opting out of one-dayers with a view to build the team up for the next World Cup.

The hosts will be banking on Tendulkar to provide rousing starts along with Ganguly. The return of Azharuddin and the street-smart duo of Robin Singh and Jadeja will bolster the batting line up. Dravid will be under pressure to perform to retain his place in the side as he has been discarded earlier in this version of the game. The Indian bowling looks thin with Srinath and Prasad being rested and dropped respectively. The mercurial Agarkar will be the main bowler to be backed up by the inexperienced Kumaran and Bhandari.

The spinners have to be prepared to bowl within the first 15 overs and apply the brakes on the Springboks. It is about time Joshi was given a decent run of chances as he has been treated rather indifferently. Dighe has to contribute with the bat to help the team's cause and he may be called upon to play the role of a pinch-hitter. He will have to also infuse enthusiasm into his teammates and keep them going, as he will be fresh.

The pitches at all the venues for the one-dayers are basically batsmen friendly and tall scoring matches can be expected. Maybe there will be a bit of assistance for the spinners in the second half at Kochi and Faridabad. One strategy the Indians can adopt is to bat first and put the pressure on the South Africans. The Indians can bat more freely while setting a target rather than chasing given their record in the past and recent form. Moreover, the South Africans have often shown the tendency to lose their way while chasing in the past. If the Indians can somehow pull off a 3-2 victory, it will not only be the ideal start for Ganguly but also the much-needed tonic for the gradually waning patience of the followers of the game.