October 9, 2001

Indians must get the balance of the team right

The Centurion Park, situated in a suburb of Pretoria, is one of the main cricket centres in South Africa

The Centurion Park, situated in a suburb of Pretoria, is one of the main cricket centres in South Africa. As the Indians get into the coach for an hour-long drive from the Sandton Sun Hotel, they can look forward to the game ahead, with a sense of optimism about their chances of winning. This was the ground that ended their sequence of defeats on one of their earlier tours. Crowds turn up in large numbers for the one-dayers in South Africa, and this centre is no exception. Succulent meat from the portable bar-be-cues is dished out the moment the crowd settles down, and the festive atmosphere continues till the end.


The Indians are once again carrying on the old tradition of one department hauling the other over the coals. Though the Indian bowlers were not on target at the Wanderers, there was no way the game could have been won with the combination that was picked.
The pitch at the Centurion Park has a fair amount of pace and bounce in it. The ground is huge as well; God help the reserves in the team, since the dressing room is situated fairly high up, with the players having to ascend steep steps. A couple of trips back and forth from the dressing room to the pitch will test the fitness levels of the reserves.

Reserves apart, the skills of the batsmen will be tested out in the centre. The faster bowlers in the home side will relish bowling on this surface after being mauled at the Wanderers by the Indian openers. Pollock bowled well within himself in the lung-opener, but the limitations of the other inexperienced bowlers were exposed cruelly by Tendulkar and Ganguly.

The South Africans may well adopt a different strategy when they bowl to the Indian captain at Centurion Park. One can be certain that, as a general rule, few full-length deliveries will be bowled. Not many in the Indian side are good at playing shots off the back foot against the faster bowlers. Nicky Boje also comes back into the side to add variety to the attack, and his batting and fielding capabilities will come in handy.

The Indians are once again carrying on the old tradition of one department hauling the other over the coals. Though the Indian bowlers were not on target at the Wanderers, there was no way the game could have been won with the combination that was picked. Playing just four bowlers was a misjudgement on the part of the team management.

Out of the four regular bowlers, Anil Kumble is coming back after a break. Javagal Srinath is a reluctant one-day participant. If Srinath prefers to play only the Tests, the matter has to be given due consideration. Speedsters all over the world have taken one particular direction at the crossroads of their careers. For instance, a bowler like Donald is, of late, not too keen on playing the shorter version of the game.

Reetinder Singh Sodhi would be a better option than Shiv Sunder Das at number six because he is capable of tonking the ball. He can also roll his arm over for short spells, and is a good fielder to boot. If at all Das is played in the eleven he has to bat at the one-down position. Sodhi, moreover, has been picked because of his utility value in the one-dayers and as such his not figuring in the eleven is inexplicable.

The other option is to play Harbhajan Singh, but I am not sure it can be done without sacrificing the balance of the team. Though he has scored a few runs in international cricket, it may not be wise to bank on him to do so in the shorter version of the game. India has to put it across South Africa to gain the psychological advantage, and they have to do it at the earliest possible opportunity.