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'Preserve Tendulkar and Zaheer for South Africa 2013'

Harsha Bhogle, Sanjay Manjrekar and Sambit Bal discuss India's Test options and the changes they need to make starting this home season

This week has been an exciting one for Indian cricket, with the Under-19 team winning the World Cup and the senior side humbling New Zealand in Hyderabad. But how much should one read into these victories? And do India seem like they're planning for their next major overseas trip, to South Africa in 2013? Sanjay Manjrekar and ESPNcricinfo Editor Sambit Bal join Harsha Bhogle in a discussion.
Extracts from the discussion below. The numbers in the brackets are the duration for each segment.
Reaction to the Under-19 World Cup win, and the players who stood out. (1.43 - 5.06)
Sanjay Manjrekar: You can be forgiven for having some expectations from the players because they played well in Australia. I was there for about a week and had a good look at the conditions there. That pitch had pace, bounce, seam and everything. If you were batting first, the conditions were testing, especially for Indian-bred batsmen. We should be happy because they put in such a good performance in alien conditions.
Three guys impressed me. Unmukt Chand looks destined to play for India. Smit Patel has got a good attitude behind the stumps, talks a lot. He's a very good wicketkeeper and a decent batsman, who'll come in at No.6 and 7 and get you those important runs. He is a guy India should look forward to because it's a nice combination - a keeper-batsman. There's Baba Aparajith, who is a tremendous talent. He looks like a proper offspinner who'll bowl you the 10 overs and guess what, he bats at No.3, and has the temperament of a batsman who bats at No.3.
The contrast in the quality of Test cricket between the series in England won by South Africa and the one going on currently in India against New Zealand. (5.07 - 8.50)
Sambit Bal: (Watching the final Test at Lord's) reinforced what I've believed in the last three to four years, which is that Test cricket should be played between good teams that can be competitive. Coming back and watching New Zealand was dire. New Zealand don't seem like they belong to Test cricket anymore.
SB: South Africa were there for more than 40 days and they had a week's gap between each Test, so it was a shocker they didn't play at least four Tests. England should certainly not be playing so many one-dayers. There should be more meaningful Test cricket. England try to cram two Test series' in a season. Sometimes they start Tests too early. They must play at least one big series of five Tests (each season).
SM: If it had been a stronger Test team (playing in India), you would have had a better Test match. That's the thing I like about Test cricket. If there is a mismatch, the match finishes early, in three or four days. In 50-overs cricket, if there's a mismatch, you have to go through the agony of 100 overs.
Can India go to South Africa well prepared if they continue to play on such turners in the home season? Plus, do India need to plan from now for that series or should the focus be completely on home matches? (8.51 - 11.56)
SB: South Africa is a long way away. I believe that you should play on different kinds of pitches. The fact that India were not playing on turners for the last couple of years…we were missing out on seeing turning pitches. Like Aakash Chopra has said on our pages a couple of times, you must prepare turning pitches for Test matches but create enough good pitches for first-class cricket. But the Test players don't play first-class cricket, there's no time. So that's a tricky one.
SM: I wrote an article about this on ESPNcricinfo a couple of weeks back and for me, the tour of South Africa has to be Indian cricket's goal. It has to be Indian cricket's goal because of what happened in England and Australia. If India win eight out of the 10 Tests at home and lose as badly as they did in England and Australia , Indian cricket is back to square one. We prepared turning pitches at home and won in the nineties but Indian cricket's image…'tigers and home, lambs overseas', that was the tag then. We have to show the cricketing world that we have done something about it (0-8) and the next time we go we have to convince skeptics that that was an aberration - that should be the goal. Everything that you do before has to be directed towards a good performance in South Africa.
Has the time come for someone like Ajinkya Rahane to open the batting in Tests, with Virender Sehwag dropping down the order? (13.00 - 17.34)
SB: Sehwag doesn't want to open in the long term, and he's been saying that for a while. He is not getting younger and his hand-eye co-ordination is not getting better, I don't think he's your opener for South Africa. That's the problem I have with this team, not the turning pitches. For 2013, you should be getting the batting order right which I don't think they do right now.
SM: In the first innings of the Hyderabad Test, [Gautam] Gambhir and Sehwag put on 38 runs and that was the highest partnership for them in the last 11 innings, which were played overseas. I'm convinced that Gambhir and Sehwag cannot be your opening combination in South Africa. The problem with playing them in the home season is that they'll get runs and you'll feel you have an in-form opening pair that you'll take to South Africa. It's a huge gamble. This is the disappointment that I have with the selection that nobody's thinking long-term, but in India, as a country, we never think long-term. To expect Sehwag in overseas conditions to give India the kind of starts he used to in his pomp is unreasonable.
How does Cheteshwar Pujara look for a long-term No.3? (17.35 - 20.00)
SB: Even in South Africa, he batted 40 to 50 minutes in really tough conditions with Sachin Tendulkar. He wasn't out of place. He did get out but he got behind the line of the ball well. I think he'll do well, he's a proper Test-match batsman.
SM: You can't call him a front-foot or back-foot player. He does the basics of batting right. If the ball is pitched up, he goes forward, if it's short he goes back. That's a rare quality for a modern-day batsman. He's a guy who just likes to go on and on with his batting, you saw how disappointed he was when he got out on 159. I haven't yet seen him against a constant attack of short balls. But he has to be your No.3 batsman.
"I'm convinced that Gambhir and Sehwag cannot be your opening combination in South Africa. The problem with playing them in the home season is that they'll get runs and you'll feel you have an in-form opening pair that you'll take to South Africa. It's a huge gamble."
Sanjay Manjrekar
What are India's major bowling concerns? There's a shortage of bowlers coming through. (20.01 - 24.22)
SB: India haven't managed their bowlers well at all. We've always had bowlers who've shown promise over the last five to 10 years - Sreesanth, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan - but where are they (now)? Why haven't they gone on to have a Test career - that's a question the selectors and team management need to ask.
SM: It's the culture we have in India. If you hold an open trial at a maidan, 90% of the people would want to bat, it's the opposite in Pakistan. Another danger in modern-day cricket is the number of academies and people who have got involved in coaching. What is dangerous is half-knowledge. When I see young people coming through in first-class cricket, spinners, with basically wrong actions, I feel so bad about it [because] there's no recovery. If you get yourself into a bad bowling action, there's only so much you can grow.
Do you see Zaheer Khan going to South Africa in 2013? (24.23 - 25.37)
SM: This is why I keep disappointed with the thought process of the selectors. When I saw Zaheer in Australia, I could see he was not capable anymore of taking the burden of all three forms of cricket. The selectors had to talk to him and ask him the format of his choice. If I was a selector: no more one-day cricket for Zaheer, keep him fresh only for Test matches.
SB: Zaheer playing one-day cricket makes no sense. He's not going to play the next World Cup.
And what about Sachin Tendulkar? (25.38 - 28.39)
SM: There are two important players who need to go to South Africa - Zaheer and Tendulkar. I cannot imagine the Indian batting team going to South Africa without Tendulkar in their team. These are two players that the selectors have to protect. Tell them, "we want you on the tour to South Africa and that's how we're going to plan your workload."
It will be one of his [Tendulkar's] toughest challenges. Tendulkar now is a solid batsman. He's not so much as defensive as Dravid was but he's become a proper, solid defensive player with a solid defence against pace and bounce. A lot of our younger players come with a short-ball problem, Tendulkar doesn't have that. His work ethic is so good. Throw him a challenge, tell him now that you want him there and he'll plan his cricket accordingly. Even in Australia, where everyone was failing, Tendulkar's footwork was the best of the lot.
SB: If Tendulkar is playing the whole of the home season, he is almost obliged to go to South Africa. You can't play 10 Tests here and not go to South Africa, because then suddenly a new guy will come in and bat at No.4. He almost owes it to Indian cricket that he goes to South Africa if he plays the home season.
Do you see Harbhajan Singh having a future in Indian cricket? And how's R Ashwin shaping up? (28.40 - 33.00)
SM: It would be a shame if his career comes to an end at this stage. He's doing the right thing. He's gone to England and is looking to take wickets. His wicket-taking form has to be observed by the selectors, not his rhythm because that has always looked pretty good. There are things he can learn from R Ashwin right now because Ashwin's lengths and lines, at least in home conditions, are very attacking at that's where Harbhajan, I thought, was a bit too short. He wasn't exploring too many options to take wickets.
SB: Ashwin gives you the impression of someone who's always thinking about his game and get better. He could get fitter, of course. It's amazing that a guy who's a product of this age is so unfit. But he'll get better there too. The challenge for him will be when he bowls on pitches that don't turn in South Africa, or in Australia where he struggled.
Numbers Game (33.48 - 38.08)
In the Hyderabad Test, spinners took 18 out of 20 wickets for India. It was the 20th time Indian spinners took 18 or more wickets in a Test. Three of those were in overseas Tests. Name the three instances.
What would be your Indian Test line-up for the tour of South Africa in 2013. You could leave a comment below or mail us on