IPL, CLT20 experience won't help India - van Zyl
Corrie van Zyl, the South Africa coach, has said experience in Twenty20 events like the IPL and the Champions League is unlikely to help India's batsmen handle South African conditions during their three-Test series which starts on Thursday in Centurion.
"When you play here as an IPL team or in the Champions League, you play on wickets that are a lot slower and flatter," van Zyl said at a press conference in Johannesburg. "They might feel a lot more comfortable touring because of those experiences, but in terms of the conditions such as the pace and the bounce, I don't think they would have an advantage. It's not easy to get used to South African conditions if you haven't been playing in them for a while."
The Twenty20 tournaments - IPL 2009 and Champions League 2010 - were held in April-May and September respectively, times when South African pitches are traditionally known to be slower. It's only when summer fully strikes, from November to February, that pace and bounce becomes a factor and for that reason, van Zyl thinks the Indians will have a lot of adapting to do.
The South Africa media has been making threatening noises about the hosts' desire to exploit their home advantage and van Zyl confirmed that view. "We are hopefully going to play on wickets that will benefit our style of play. There's been a lot of talk about pace and bounce and yes, that's what we would like to see from our South African wickets." With a pace attack that's spearheaded by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, and an Indian line-up that's become known for its vulnerability to the short ball, it's clear what South Africa's strategy will be.
The home seamers, however, are not the only ones looking forward to responsive pitches. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth spend most of their time toiling in the subcontinent and will relish the chance to enjoy some assistance from the conditions. van Zyl believes the team that makes better use of the conditions will finish on top. "It's one thing to play in those conditions and another thing to execute. If we think that the Indians don't have bowlers that can bowl well on bouncy wickets then we are mistaken. It's about who handles the bounce and the pace the best."
South Africa are certain to include a fourth seamer in the starting XI, but van Zyl was "not comfortable" discussing whether that bowler will be Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren or Wayne Parnell. Tsotsobe is the incumbent, having played in the West Indies in June, which was the the last time South Africa used four seamers - Steyn, Morkel and Jacques Kallis being the others. Tsotsobe was the leading bowler during the one-day series against Pakistan in the UAE and indications are that he will get the nod.
"Tsotsobe has grown tremendously as a bowler and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he has improved tremendously in terms of confidence," van Zyl said. "I don't think he is the bowler he used to be, purely from a confidence point of view. He has worked hard on his strength and conditioning and I think he has really come along recently."
Tsotsobe has only played one first-class game this season for his franchise, the Warriors, in which he took just one wicket. He is not the only South Africa player who may lack adequate practice, as wet weather continues to play havoc with the team's preparations. The squad assembled in Johannesburg on Sunday, and their first practice session on Monday was delayed by two hours. They had just managed to get onto the field at the Wanderers when rain interrupted again. van Zyl has "an eye on the weather, and the other eye on what we can do if it does rain for the whole week." Indoor nets are available if need be, but ideally, van Zyl will want his batsmen to practise outdoors.
Alviro Petersen, AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel, Ryan McLaren and Paul Harris had match time thanks to the MTN40. Players who were not involved in the domestic tournament have found other avenues to train, and some, like Tsotsobe, travelled to Cape Town where they were under assistant-coach Vincent Barnes' watch. Graeme Smith's fitness, however, remains a concern. He was cleared to play after fracturing the ring finger on his left hand against Pakistan, but is yet to face hard balls.
While India have never won a Test series in South Africa, and have only won one out of 12 Tests since 1992, they've got progressively got better at competing overseas. The current world leaders in Test cricket are also visiting South Africa for the first time under Gary Kirsten. That factor alone has increased tension ahead of the series.
"He's not playing, is he," van Zyl joked about Kirsten's involvement. Even though South Africa won't have to contend with Kirsten on the field, van Zyl is aware of the other challenges MS Dhoni's side will pose. "It's an excellent Indian team. If you are talking about a good team then you can't single out individuals, they are not No. 1 because of an individual, they are No. 1 because they are a very good unit and I think if we look at one or two individuals then we are going to miss the boat."
Many feel that if India fail to beat South Africa, the credibility of their ranking will be in doubt. van Zyl said he was not going to bother about the ratings until the series was over. "It's not really for me to say if the ranking would be right or wrong," he said. "I would just like to see us beat them in this Test series, then we can see about that."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent