India tour of South Africa, 2006-07 December 11, 2006

'We won't tamper with the openers' - Vengsarkar

Wasim Jaffer bagged a pair in the tour match, but will open in the first Test, according to Dilip Vengsarkar © Getty Images

Dilip Vengsarkar landed in Johannesburg on Monday morning, and was straight to work, watching the team practice outdoors at the Wanderers on Monday afternoon. Now the chairman of the selection committee, Vengsarkar said that he would share his inputs with the team management, and made the significant comment that the opening pair would not be tampered with, but insisted that he was not here on some sort of coercive mission.

"I am not here on a mission," he said, with a faint smile. "I have just come here to watch some international cricket and to have first-hand knowledge of the players and how they are going about their job. There's the captain and the coach, and if they want advice, I'm always there. I will definitely give my inputs, because picking the final eleven is very important. It's always good to have an outside view, and I can contribute there. We are all on the same wavelength, we know each other quite well and I have played with and against some of them, so there are no problems at all."

Despite their travails on this tour, Vengsarkar was confident that a corner would soon be turned. "All the batsmen are very experienced players, they have records of the highest quality," he said. "They just need to start believing in themselves. They are all class players, but they will have to fire quickly. The time has come for them to start scoring, because the Test series is not far away. I am sure the boys will do well. The Potchefstroom win was very important. The team is now getting into the groove, and that is a good sign ahead of the Test series."

Having played as a middle-order batsman himself, Vengsarkar stressed on the importance of a good start. India's opening partnerships thus far on tour have been negligible, and he said that would have to change if the team was to fare well in the Tests. "We won't tamper with the openers, the specialists will open," he said, when asked if a makeshift pairing had been contemplated, with both Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag struggling for runs. "The top-order batting is a matter of concern for all of us. Unless you get a good start, you can't put up a big total. It is essential to put up a big total if you want to win Test matches."

He stressed, however, that India would continue to struggle overseas if the nature of the pitches back home didn't change. In his view, the reason for India's capitulation in the one-dayers was simple. "The bounce," he said. "But all of them are experienced players who have travelled all over the world. It really beats me why they have been failing repeatedly. They have been here for nearly a month. But unless we get good wickets back home in India, we can't produce good cricketers. Bounce is important; it helps everyone - the batsmen can play their shots, and it will be beneficial to the pacers as well as the spinners."

It was good to see him [Ganguly] score runs in his first match of the tour. It will stand him in good stead in the Test matches

According to him , Sourav Ganguly's return to the side, with a composed 83 in the tour game, was proof that the grooming of youth needs to go hand-in-hand with what more experienced hands can contribute. "It was good to see him score runs in his first match of the tour," he said. "It will stand him in good stead in the Test matches. Test cricket is the ultimate, and it is good to see him slip back into the team nicely."

He was less concerned about Irfan Pathan, whose bowling slump has deprived the team of a precious allround option. "These things happen to all cricketers, not just Irfan," he said. "He's a talented player who has done well in the past. He has been around for a while and he knows what's wrong with him. The more he bowls, the better he will get. If he gets a five-wicket haul, he will get his confidence back."

His counterpart, Haroon Lorgat, has already forecast a 3-0 whitewash of the Indians, but Vengsarkar wasn't about to be drawn into the soothsayer's game. "I can't comment on someone else's comment," he said, with a laugh. "I feel it will be a good series. I don't make predictions, but I am hoping we will win."

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo