India have reason to hope
The Indians now have to get over their one-day blues and get on with the task of regrouping for the forthcoming Test series. The squad announced by the selectors has no surprises, although the retention of Virender Sehwag is a welcome move as he has improved with every match. Deep Dasgupta has been handed a lifeline, even though the general contention is that he is not ready yet for the big league. The following weeks though should provide coach John Wright enough time to work on the young wicket-keeper's shortcomings. Dasgupta himself should utilise this time with purpose.
Another important decision to be made concerns the bowling combination; in all probability, the attack will comprise two spinners and two medium pacers. It would be moot to ask whether four regular bowlers can bowl the opponents out twice.
Dravid has a very crucial role to play in this series and he will decisively shape the fortunes of the team, especially if he bats at number three. Going by the reports, it is going to be a tricky situation for the team management, and it remains to be seen if they will try to convince him to play this series. It is likely that he may be asked to put the interests of the team ahead of his own.
Not that this is an unusual situation for Dravid, as he has complied with the wishes of his captain and coach right from his rookie days. It must, however, be remembered that an aggravation to Dravid's injury would render him unfit for what promises to be a long season.
Captain Sourav Ganguly has a wide range of options in the fast bowling department. His main dilemma is whether to go for experience or youth. The younger players, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, have not played in some time, and their current form has to be examined before giving them the nod. In the past, the norm has always been to give undue importance to past deeds, with form being totally ignored.
Another important decision to be made concerns the bowling combination; in all probability, the attack will comprise two spinners and two medium-pacers. It would be moot to ask whether four regular bowlers can bowl the opponents out twice. It has not been done on flat tracks on too many occasions, but the visitors will be banking heavily on the spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble to do the job.
The weak link, once again, will be the opening slot, with Sadagopan Ramesh opting out and Connor Williams forcing his way into the squad with good performances in the Irani Trophy. Shiv Sunder Das is the senior partner, and a lot will depend on how he shapes up against the South African attack. One can only hope that Sehwag is not thrust into the opening position since he is better off in the middle-order.
VVS Laxman may be shifted to number six, which will give Ganguly more opportunities to play freely. In the past as a number six batsman, he has had to play the role of the senior and responsible batsman as there was only the tail to follow. Here, he is the man in form, and he has to back himself to make major contributions for the team.
In comparison, the South African batting is not too sound on paper, and the hosts have their problems in the bowling department as well. They will be without Donald, which will be a huge psychological advantage for the Indians. Also, the pitches at Bloemfontein, Centurion and Port Elizabeth are not as pacey and bouncy as the one at Durban. The Indian batting line-up, for its part, is strong, and all the four main batsmen have been to South Africa before.
As such, this series will be much closer than is generally perceived. A lot of doubts were expressed before the home series against Australia too, but the results proved that they were all unfounded. Of course, this is an away series, and past records are stacked heavily against the Indians, but there is always a first time. The question: can the vital batsmen break the jinx and deliver match-winning knocks?