An article by a Guest Contributor, S. Hari Shankar
A placid pitch and heartless weather conditions ensured that the Chennai Test match petered out into a tame draw. There was a time in the match — when Virender Sehwag was in full flow — when one felt that South Africa was on the back foot. The subsequent two days plays however put paid to such expectations and overall, it was India who ended up on the back foot and not South Africa.
Except for Virender Sehwag, no other Indian batsman seemed to be in touch. Although Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid did make reasonable scores, given the conditions under which the bowlers were laboring, neither of them appeared to be fluent enough. Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly seemed to be out of sorts, while V. V. S. Laxman seems to have forgotten that he should farm the strike when batting with the tail -– something he forgot in the Perth Test as well. While Sehwag’s brilliant innings allowed team Indian to see a glimmer of victory, more importantly, his positive approach ensured that India would not be troubled by the South Africa’s first innings score of 540.
Sreesanth and R. P. Singh were sad spectacles on the field. Neither of them got the line or the length right at any stage. It also did appear that R. P. Singh was not at his fittest. Harbhajan Singh did clean up the South Africa tail in the first innings, but then in the second innings, he couldn’t do anything useful. The wickets he picked up in the second innings were providential. With Anil Kumble having a groin niggle, India might have a problem with their pack of bowlers.
The Indian fielding was an unqualified disaster. Although the weather was heartless, the manner in which Indians were moving around in the field can only be termed somnambulous. Balls hit almost direct to fielders were let through and lethargy seemed to be the flavor of the day.
The lesson that India should learn from this match is the need to be reasonably positive while batting. While Sehwag was in the middle, the South Africa bowling seemed pedestrian and on the other hand as soon as he got back into the pavilion, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn seemed positively venomous. Even Morne Morkel was impressive. It would be useful, if Gary Kirsten, the Indian Coach, reminded all players on the need to bat positively.
The break that the team got after the long Australian tour seemed to have affected their mental make-up -– there can be no other explanation for the terrible display on the field by almost all the Indians. Most of them did not play any of the local matches except for V. V. S. Laxman and Wasim Jaffar. The team management should get the entire team into a series of physical and mental calisthenics to get them to be physically and mental healthy.
So where does one go from here? The track at Ahmadabad might be of some help to spinners. In the last match India played here in Dec 2005, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh picked up 18 Sri Lankan wickets –- Harbhajan Singh even took the new ball with Irfan Pathan in the second innings! Given the hot conditions at Motera, it would be sensible to go in with five bowlers –- the fifth bowler (obviously a spinner) will help avoid excessive strain on Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. If the selectors think on these lines, they will have to deal with the problem of whom to leave out. Going into the match without two medium pacers would be foolish which almost certainly means they have to leave one of the batsman out. A groin aggravation that Tendulkar picked up might be a “selection” blessing in disguise. Irfan Pathan and either Sreesanth or Ishanth Sharma will make up the medium pace options while Piyush Chawla can help out the spinners.
So are we looking at the following line-up for Ahmadabad?
Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, M. S. Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ishanth Sharma / Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla
— The Saint