Acid test for India’s supremacy

The stage is set. In a veritable World Championships of Cricket, the world’s top Test team India will be defending the title against the second-ranked South Africans. The team that wins the series will certainly establish itself as the world’s best. As it’s just a two-game mini-series, the stakes are mighty high. No team can afford to start to slow off the blocks and that only means one thing — high-intensity cricket from day one.

India

The key against any formidable side is a good start. And that makes the role of one player very crucial — Virender Sehwag. When Sehwag puts the runs on board, it not only sets a good platform for the middle order, but more importantly, he leaves the bowling attack devastated. Against a crack team like South Africa, India would need that psychological edge.

Dale Steyn and company may have their strategies ready for Sehwag, but on his day no strategy works. It’ll be interesting to see who wins this mini-battle.

The grafter-de-résistance, Gautam Gambhir thrives on challenges as much as the big stage and it can’t get bigger than this for the left-handed opener. The absence of Rahul Dravid at number three has added a new dimension to the challenge. Giving the first hour to the fast bowlers will be crucial for the two openers and so will the shot selection.

The role of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, and captain MS Dhoni will be to add runs and solidity, more so in the absence of Dravid. The two youngsters in Murali Vijay and S Badrinath couldn’t have asked for a better platform to showcase their talent.

Indian bowlers will have to fire with all guns blazing if Team India is looking to win the series. The onus lies on the experienced shoulders of Zaheer Khan to get the important breakthrough. And then make further inroads into the Proteas batting line-up. Ishant Sharma has been in fine form of late and he’ll be effective with his stock out-going deliveries against the three left-handed batsmen in Graeme Smith, Ashwell Prince, and JP Duminy.

The role of India’s senior spinner Harbhajan Singh will be to dismantle the middle order and the office needs to rediscover his wicket-taking ability. It remains to be seen who Dhoni will go for as the second spinner though leg-spinner Amit Mishra is more of a wicket-taker than Pragyan Ojha, though the latter bowled well against Bangladesh.

South Africa

It remains to be seen how well the tourists have taken to coach Corrie van Zyl, who was thrust upon them as the last minute. Captain Graeme Smith, who has led his team well in the last two years, will have to soak in all the turbulence of the recent developments and marshal his resources effectively.

Struggling to find form, opener Ashwell Prince has his task cut out. He’ll have to quickly adapt to the conditions and get among the runs. And that’s easier said than done.

Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers will have the dual role of putting runs on board and keeping the spinners at bay. JP Duminy, who has had a nightmare of a series against England, is too good a player to fail for too long.

The Protea’s pace attack is the potential game changer. Speedsters Dale Steyn, and Morne Morkel is in red-hot form and they will test India’s batting. The young left-arm pacer Wayne Parnell is equally potent and cannot be taken lightly. However, it’ll be interesting to see how spinner Paul Harris fares against Indian batsmen, who are natural players of spin.

Playing Eleven (Probable):

India: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, S Badrinath, MS Dhoni (capt-wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Amit Mishra/Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma

South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Ashwell Prince, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Mark Boucher (wk), Morne Morkel, Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, and Wayne Parnell


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