South Africa ready for spin challenge
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Start time 09:30 am local time (04:00 GMT)
Quotas and colour, senior and junior - they are the controversies that have been part of South Africa's and India's build-up to the first Test in Chennai. South Africa's controversial quota-based selection policy exploded during their win in Bangladesh with Andre Nel reacting strongly to his exclusion from the tour of India, while Charl Langeveldt later opted out because he did not want the tag of a quota player. India's historic CB Series victory in Australia reignited the senior-junior debate that has been a rage ever since Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a young squad to Twenty20 glory in South Africa.
However, the Indian team that will take the field against South Africa will be their tried and tested Test veterans. They've performed superbly in recent series - winning a Test in South Africa and Australia, and the series in England and against Pakistan.
South Africa are also on a hot streak - they won in Pakistan, came from behind to beat West Indies at home and thumped Bangladesh. The contest which begins on March 26 could be billed as the fight for No 2. South Africa have toppled Australia from top spot in the one-day rankings; a win in India will boost their Test rankings as well.
Form guide - India
Last five matches: DLLWD
Player to watch: Wasim Jaffer's place at the top of the order is under the spotlight after six consecutive failures in the Test series in Australia where he scored 49 runs in three Tests. He was in excellent form in the home series against Pakistan, when he scored a double-century and two fifties. The pressure will be on Jaffer, for if he fails in the Tests against South Africa, Gautam Gambhir is a strong contender for his spot.
Form guide - South Africa
Last five matches: LWWWW
Player to watch: It takes a special bowler to beat Allan Donald to 100 Test wickets, and Dale Steyn has done precisely that: he took his 100th wicket in his 20th Test, against Bangladesh in Chittagong, at an average of 21 apiece. Apart from tearing through New Zealand and West Indies at home, Steyn has also adapted to extremely different conditions in Pakistan and Bangladesh and taken 23 wickets at less than 20 apiece in four Tests in those two countries. He's quick through the air, which reduces his dependence on the pitch, and possesses a well-disguised slower yorker that has uprooted the stumps on several occasions. Trying to run through a strong Indian batting line-up on their home turf will be his toughest challenge yet.
India's top order picks itself, with Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer at the top and Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman in the middle. India are likely to field two spinners in Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, which means there would be no place for Irfan Pathan unless the management decides to play him as a new-ball bowler instead of either RP Singh or Sreesanth, or asks him to open instead of Jaffer. Both scenarios are equally unlikely.
South Africa, on the other hand, are likely to play just one specialist spinner in Paul Harris to complement a three-pronged pace attack - Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini. With Jacques Kallis providing a reliable fourth-seamer option, it's unlikely that either Monde Zondeki or Robin Peterson will get a look in.
India (probable): 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Wasim Jaffer, 3 Rahul Dravid, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Sourav Ganguly, 6 VVS Laxman, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Anil Kumble (capt), 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 RP Singh, 11 Sreesanth.
South Africa (probable): 1 Neil McKenzie, 2 Graeme Smith (capt), 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 AB de Villiers, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Morne Morkel, 9 Paul Harris, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Makhaya Ntini.
Umpires: Asad Rauf and Tony Hill.
Pitch & conditions
The pitch at the MA Chidambaram is expected to be a "spinner's paradise" according to Jacques Kallis, with precious little swing for the fast bowlers.
Weather: The weather in Chennai all year round can be summed up succinctly in two words: hot and humid. The temperatures are likely to be around 30 degrees Celsius and the humidity levels will be high enough to call for frequent drinks breaks. However, a worrying factor is the unseasonal rain that Chennai has been experiencing over the last week. The forecast for Wednesday is for rain but it's unlikely that the whole Test will be marred by poor weather.
Stats & trivia
"It looks a good surface, a typical Chennai wicket. It should be a batting surface and as the game progresses the spinners will definitely come into the picture. It will have good bounce and carry as well."
"The way the wicket has been prepared, it's going to be a spinner's paradise. We've had trips to the subcontinent recently and the guys are playing spin as well as they've ever played. I think the myth that South Africans do not play spin well is pretty much out of the window now."
"I would be lying if I said I was completely confident about retaining my place. Gautam [Gambhir] has done phenomenally in Australia (in the one-dayers) and Aakash [Chopra] has had an astounding season. So I'm glad that people who mattered showed the confidence in me."
"I'm looking forward to bowling to all of the Indian top order. I've been waiting my whole career to play a series in India - probably the best place for a spinner to come and test his skills. I'm looking forward to bowling to some of the best players in the world."