India have to go on the offensive against South Africa

April 10th, 2008 - 2:53 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
(Lead, Preview)
By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
Kanpur, April 10 (IANS) India are left with no option but to go for the jugular against a resurgent South Africa in the third and final Test beginning here Friday. India have to win the Test at Green Park to draw the series after the visitors took a 1-0 lead with a surprise but well deserved win in the second match in Ahmedabad.

It is an unusual situation to be in for India, who have not lost a home series for almost four years. The last time they succumbed to a visiting team was in 2004 when Australia won the four-match series 2-1.

It is a surprising turnaround for India, a team that had performed so well against world champions Australia Down Under barely a few weeks ago. The home team was beaten in the second Test by a team that was widely believed to be a weak one although not short on determination and resilience.

The innings and 90-run defeat in Ahmedabad was caused by the batsmen’s failure and South African speedsters’ superb performance on a seamer-friendly pitch.

Here in Kanpur, India’s problem has doubled.

In addition to the batsmen’s sudden drop in form, the fitness of captain Anil Kumble is still a worry. Kumble has a groin problem and he said at the pre-match press conference here Thursday that he would take a call on himself just before the start of the match Friday.

But the good news is that lanky pacer Ishant Sharma, the find of the recent Australian tour, along with Sreesanth, was declared fit Thursday. Sharma had a finger and toe problems while Sreesanth’s shoulder was posing problems.

Sharma will most likely be included in the playing XI after missing the first two Tests. He is set to replace either left-arm pacer Rudra Pratap Singh, dropped after his poor showing in Ahmedabad, if not Sreesanth or Irfan Pathan. Another option could be to drop either Sreesanth or Pathan to accommodate Sharma.

Indian supporters expect an improved performance from the famed batting line-up - minus Sachin Tendulkar, who is missing for the second successive Test due to an injury. At the same time, the bowlers will have to take 20 wickets to win the match.

So, it all boils down to what kind of pitch curator Shiv Kumar provides for the five-day game. Kumar has been preparing pitches for a few years, but he might not have felt as much pressure before as he is now with India desperately looking for a victory.

There are definite indications of the pitch aiding spinners as grass is being removed, making the cracks visible on the dry pitch. With India possessing world-class spinners in Kumble and offie Harbhajan Singh, the team would naturally like to take full advantage of playing at home.

If India are keen on winning the match they will have to play five specialist bowlers, including three spinners, and juggle the batting order a bit, even if it means to go in with a non-regular opener.

Therefore, India would have to include a third slow bowler, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla who is quite familiar with the Green Park pitch as he plays for Uttar Pradesh. He made his debut two years ago in a weather-marred match against England in Mohali and has not played a second Test although he has been in 15 One-Day Internationals.

The selectors have also included off-spinner Ramesh Powar as a standby for Kumble to inflate the squad to 16, a clear indication of how much the Indian think-tank is relying on spinners for the crucial match.

South Africans were not considered to be adept against spin. But Graeme Smith’s team shattered that belief in Ahmedabad as their batsmen not only tackled Kumble and Harbhajan skilfully but also mastered them on a pitch that assisted speedsters.

A.B. de Villiers hammered a double century and evergreen all-rounder Jacques Kallis a hundred to demoralize the Indian bowling attack to raise almost 500 runs after speedsters Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel had drilled holes in the highly-rated Indian batting to hustle them out for 76. All this was after the tall totals in the dull draw in the first Test in Chennai.

South Africa have so far relied almost entirely on their fast men. But looking at the pitch here they may also change their strategy and attack with two left-arm spinners by bringing in Robin Peterson for the first time in the series to partner Paul Harris, who has played in both Tests.

But South African team coach Mickey Arthur is ready for a turner here and was not surprised when he saw the pitch. “We are prepared and ready to counter any game plan (by India),” he said.

The last time India and South Africa clashed at the Green Park, it turned out to be a weather-influenced, high scoring draw. Virender Sehwag, who scored his second triple century in Chennai, had scored 164 and Gautam Gambhir 96 while Andrew Hall made 163 as an opener. Hall has since defected to rebel Indian Cricket League.

Sehwag, who has regained his form since making a successful comeback to the Test team on the Australian tour, would like to do an encore here.

India and South Africa have played two Tests at this venue and the home side won the first one in 1996.

Teams:

India: Anil Kumble (captain), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (vice-captain/wicketkeeper), Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman, Wasim Jaffer, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar

South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher (wicketkeeper), A.B. de Villiers, J.P. Duminy, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Monde Zondeki, Neil McKenzie, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson and Dale Steyn

Umpires: Billy Doctrove (West Indies) and Asad Rauf (Pakistan)
TV umpire: G.A. Pratapkumar (India)
Fourth umpire: Sanjeev Dua (India)
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama (Sri Lanka)

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