Millennium Post

Time to face chin music

India’s young and relatively inexperienced batting line-up is up for its toughest test yet when the first match of the two Test series gets undeway at the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg three days from now (18-22 Dec).

After going down meakly (0-2) in the three-match one day series, the top ODI team in the world must raise the bar several notches if they want to challenge the world’s top Test team in their own backyard.

Despite being a shortened tour, neither hosts nor visitors are expected to take this series lightly and a lot of battles will be interesting to watch. For the Men in Blue, it will be an exercise to re-affirm faith in their young batters as India venture into the unfamiliar life sans Sachin Tendulkar.

The likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli have all been tremendous in 2013, scoring over 1,000 runs in the calendar year and averaging over fifty. With the trioka scoring runs in India, England, West Indies and Zimbabwe, the expectations too will be sky-high at the moment.
Skipper Dhoni, though in jest, mentioned before the start of the series he would like to leave out No 4 and take No 12 instead but the moment is finally here. One can point at this South African tour as India’s moment of completing the transition. The last of the fab four, Sachin Tendulkar, retired and the team has finally moved on. In all likelihood, Virat Kohli will fill into those big shoes. It isn’t just Kohli who would be tested, but the other young batsmen in the line-up would also have to prove their credentials in alien conditions. Cheteshwar Pujara , Kohli at No 4, followed by Rohit Sharma at No 5 will form India’s new line-up. Irrespective of anything, these are the players who are going to take India forward. With the amount of confidence they possess, these batsmen are going to leave no stone unturned to keep their team on top.

Commenting on the tour, presently out of favour  Delhi opener Gautam Gambhir said, ‘When you play on pitches like those in South Africa, you need to show a lot of mental toughness. You have to be gutsy and have the grit to succeed in adverse conditions. One needs to have the ability to go out and hang in there despite all odds. I don’t ever make comments about individual performances. It’s Indian team that needs to play well collectively. Test matches are won on the basis of collective effort.’

Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement leaves a huge void at No 4 in India’s Test line-up. Although India have an inexperienced batting line-up, they can take comfort in the fact they have many options in their roster. Virat Kohli, who, with 20 Tests, is the most experienced front-line batsman in the line-up. MS Dhoni has 80 Tests to his credit but he bats lower down the order. That leaves us with Rohit Sharma who is only two Tests old and Ravindra Jadeja, who is more of a bowling-all-rounder.
In all likelihood, the team management would hand the responsibility to Kohli as he has looked the natural successor to Tendulkar. With each passing year, he has inspired confidence and has become more dependable. In one-day cricket, he has been absolutely dominant and is well on his way to become one of the finest batsmen in that arena. In Tesst, he is yet to unleash his best, but has shown glimpses of brilliance.

Rohit has made a blazing entry into Test cricket and is in great form this year. The form in one-day cricket facilitated his selection in the Test side and he announced himself with a fantastic ton on debut against the West Indies. It was an innings one expected from a man of Rohit’s caliber. There was patience and class as he rescued India from a tough spot. Earlier, he was often accused of throwing his wicket away, but he has matured to play the long innings with a touch of temperance to his aggressive streak. Then, during his second Test, he scored another quality century at Wankhede Stadium against West Indies. Rohit would be the perfect foil at No 5. This line-up now looks strong and full of potential. Batting legend Sunil Gavaskar believes it is Zaheer Khan’s knowledge of having played in South Africa which will help the team. ‘More than anything else, I think Zaheer will be very handy for some of the younger players like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami who are on their first trip to South Africa with the national team. They need someone who has been there, who has performed there and knows what the conditions are. Zaheer’s skills will be crucial  for his past record in South Africa – 23 wickets from 12 innings. Once he gets his rhythm, he will also get you wickets,’ Gavaskar said.

High on speed

Back in team after an impressive show in the domestic circuit, experienced left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan will spearhead India’s pace attack when the first match of the two-Test series gets underway Wednesday. The Indian fast bowling unit, comprising Mohamed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Zaheer, will relish the kind of surfaces on offer both in Johannesburg and Durban. Commenting on the bowling department, former skipper Sourav Ganguly said: ‘India will have to bowl well to make an impact in the series and win it. We have Zaheer’s experience to go with youngsters Ishant, Shami, Umesh and Bhuvneshwar, which makes a good team that’s capable of achieving success in South Africa if they keep the basics straight.’

Fast and furious

South Africa owe a large part of their success to Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander who have ripped through many batting line-ups. The Indians in particular have already shown their tentative mindset at the start against a fiery Steyn. In the Tests, expect Steyn to bowl with a similar gameplan. The outswingers, the short balls etc. are going to continue and it will up to the batsmen to prepare themselves mentally. Dhoni has assured a better outing against the pace and bounce though. ‘Wanderers can be scary. You can inflict pain there, especially on that sort of a wicket. And we were capable of doing that as a bowling unit. If you seriously look at it, India lack someone who can really bowl with pace up there. They need someone like that. Only Ishant Sharma comes close and perhaps can bowl at 140-km/hr per hour,’ paceman Dale Steyn had said while commenting on the series.
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