After a well-earned, short break, India is going to play some cricket; this time at home against South Africa.
This comes a day after Sunil Gavaskar took careful aim at England and Australia in a newspaper column of his!
The South Africans have been smart with their scheduling — they have spent the last month in Bangladesh and are possibly acclimatised. Even though the opposition wasn’t as strong as India, they should have also acquired a feel for the nature of the pitches they might encounter in India. They toured Pakistan not so long ago too. So even though the only practice game that they had (against India ‘A’) was canceled, South African Coach, Mickey Arthur, wasn’t too concerned. As a result of this confidence in the conditions, the team flew back to South Africa on 14 March for a quick refresh before heading back to the sub-continent.
Although some of their players have hit form at the right time — including Greame Smith — the team has been dogged by a colour-based-selection policy. This even saw Charl Langeveldt pull out of the tour — the player did not wish to be included just on the basis of his colour! Greame Smith, the South African captain said, “We need to find a way to deal with these issues so we can concentrate on the cricket.”
Jacques Kallis weighed in to the selection debate and called the selection-saga “frustrating”. He said it is best that “the task of choosing the side is left solely to the selectors in the future.”
Langeveldt was initially included ahead of Andre Nel to fulfill a quota obligation. This has resulted in the charismatic Andre Nel threatening to quit cricket! And now, we have the Langeveldt pull-out! No replacement has been named for Langeveldt!
Amidst this backdrop, the first Test of the three-match series starts in Chennai on Wednesday 26 March 2008.
The Indians have found themselves in a bit of controversy too, since their victorious return from Australia. This has revolved around M. S. Dhoni’s alleged seniors Vs juniors comment as well as the fitness of a few players. A few have also questioned the need to continue to invest faith in Yuvraj Singh in the Test side. Anil Kumble, Team India Test captain, put down the seniors Vs juniors issue as a pure media-play and nothing else.
The two sides, meanwhile, are evenly matched, in my view. The South Africans have done well in India in the past and although they will play against a Team India Test squad that is largely refreshed by the inclusion of a few well-rested “seniors”, this may be a closer series than many Indians would like to accept!
South Africa (possible): Graeme Smith (c), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince (vc), A. B. de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini
Reserves: Jean-Paul Duminy, Robin Peterson, Monde Zondeki
India (possible): Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, M. S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Sreesanth/Chawla, R. P. Singh
Reserves: Wasim Jaffer, Yuvraj Singh
While the South Africa lineup does not have too many doubts surrounding it, the Indian squad is, as always, punctuated by the opener conundrum and its corollary — the 4-bowler-policy. Anil Kumble has declared emphatically that Rahul Dravid will bat at #3. So, unless the team decides to go with only 4 bowlers — a risk in the humid and hot Chennai conditions — I do think that Pathan will open to accommodate an extra pace bowler (Sreesanth) or spinner (Chawla). The rest of the team picks itself and has, apart from Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni and Tendulkar, a “well-rested” look to it.
This will be a series which will, to me, indicate whether India now has it in them to add the word “consistent” to the adjectives that are used to describe the team. Indeed, this whole year will present an opportunity for Team India to prove that it can be consistently good at the highest level. A good result for Team India will mean that its #2 spot will be consolidated on the ICC Test Table.