India’s Final Frontier: South Africa & Australia’s Horrific Ashes

One Test Victory in last 18 years, Winning average of just over 8%, Batting Line up having less than respectable batting average in that country, playing on spinner friendly pitches for the full year, two uncapped seamers, a more than formidable opposition enjoying home advantage, playing away from home on seamer friendly green pitches, likely to face chin music from two of the world’s fastest bowlers, in such a background what a cracker of a series India v/s South Africa Promises to be.

Indian team’s record is most unflattering in South Africa winning only 1 of the 12 test matches played post 1992. Though there have been flashes of brilliance in these last years like Praveen Amre’s debut century, Kapil Dev’s last test century in ‘92, Sehwag’s swashbuckling debut century at Bloemfontein and the most recent inspired bowling by S.Sreesanth at Johannesburg in ’06 where he took 5 wickets for 40 runs to dismiss South Africa for 84 in 1st innings and setting up India’s famous and wildly celebrated 1st test victory on South Africa soil since 1992.

India could not keep up the momentum and South Africa won the next two matches of the series and with it winning the series once again. India has many positives going their way this time over. They have a settled batting line up with one of the best opening pair in Virendra Sehwag & Gautam Gambhir is Test Player of the year 2010 and has also has been in his usual destructive self in the current year. Rahul Dravid needed to spend some time in middle which he duly did during the recent New Zealand series. Sachin Tendulkar is one good innings away from 50th Test century and what better place and time to get it then in South Africa. VVS Lakshman has been India’s savior in 2010 and Indian fans would be expecting an encore from him in South Africa as well.

Suresh Raina has been battling some poor form after his brilliant debut century and South Africa would be an ideal place for Raina to get his from back as the ball will be coming on to bat nicely and he can play his strokes fluently. There is an ideal back up for the strong batting line up in Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay to take care of any injury or sudden dip in form.

Indian Bowling is also looking good with experienced Zaheer Khan spearheading the attack. Sreesanth seems to have found his rhythm back against New Zealand has been hitting the right spots. Ishant Sharma has been struggling with injuries but he has been bowling well in his limited periods in the field. Harbhajan Singh will relish the bouncy pitches of South Africa and will be inspired by success of Greame Swann’s when England toured South Africa earlier this year. Pragyan Ojha can also be pressed in duty, if required. India is also taking two new and exciting prospects in Jaydev Unadkat and Umesh Yadav who are capable of bowling fast. Wriddhiman Saha is also part of the team as a specialist wicketkeeper and he is also an able batsman.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s astute captaincy is equally important for the fortunes of this team. His batting abilities will also be put to use in seaming conditions of South Africa and he has to play an important role in lower middle order and have to bat intelligently with tail to make significant contributions.

India is up against a very formidable team which has likes of Greamme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB De Villiers, and JP Duminy in their batting line up. They also have rarest of rare breeds of Genuine Fast Bowlers in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel who are expected to pose some serious questions to the famed Indian Batting line up, Left arme seam bowlers have always troubled India and they have Wayne Parnell to do that job. Paul Harris and Johan Botha provide variations in their attack.

The key for India will be the top three batsmen as they have to tackle the new ball and not the new ball bowlers dictate terms. Once the new ball is seen through middle order has to make it count. Losing wickets in heap has been India’s problem which they have to sort out in order to be successful. Zaheer and Harbhajan have to be at their best and Ishant & Sreesanth have to provide them able support. Indian team has to guard against any injuries and play to their full potential to have a realistic chance to improve their record in South Africa.

India needs to take clue from England and their performance in their Ashes tour in Australia. After conceding a lead of 221 runs in the first Innings England dug deep and showed steely resolve to score big in the second innings and thus shifting the momentum in their favour. With this momentum England won the second test and completely outplayed Australia handing them an innings defeat. On the current form England is favourite to retain the Ashes and effectively end the dominance of Australia in cricket.

Let us hope Indian team take leaf out of England team and do an encore in South Africa.

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