India have to go on the offensive against South Africa

April 10th, 2008 - 12:57 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
(Third Test Preview)
By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
Kanpur, April 10 (IANS) Left with no option, India will have to go for the jugular against a resurgent South Africa in the third and final Test beginning here Friday to draw the series after the visitors took a 1-0 lead with their surprise but well deserved win in the second match. It is an unusual scenario 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. Now captain Anil Kumble faces the same situation Sourav Ganguly had encountered then.

It is a surprising turnaround for India as they had performed so well against world champions Australia Down Under recently. The home team was beaten in the second Test by a team 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 friendly pitch. Here in Kanpur, India’s problem has doubled. In addition to the batsmen’s sudden drop in form, the match fitness of Kumble and lanky pacer Ishant Sharma, the find of the recent Australian tour, has caused uneasiness in the Indian camp.

But the good news is that Sharma seems to have regained full fitness and looks 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.

Millions of home fans will not only expect an improved performance from the famed batting line-up - minus Sachin Tendulkar, who is missing a second successive Test due to an injury - but would also like the bowlers to take 20 wickets to register a face-saving win at the Green Park Stadium.

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 years but he might not have felt as much pressure before as India desperately seek to script a face-saving win.

But to blame Kumar, assuming anything goes wrong, will not be proper as the cricket board’s ground and wicket committee oversees the preparations. The local groundsmen have only limited say in the making of the pitches.

The indications that the pitch would assist spinners are already there as grass is being removed, making the cracks visible on the dry looking pitch. With India possessing world-class and experienced spinners in Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, the team would naturally like to take full home advantage.

There is a strong belief that if India are really keen to win this match, they will have to play five specialist bowlers - including three spinners — and juggle the batting line-up a bit, even if it means to have a non-regular opener take that responsibility.

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

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

South Africans are not considered adept against spinners. But Graeme Smith’s team shattered that belief in Ahmedabad. Their batsmen not only tackled Kumble and Harbhajan skilfully but also looked to have mastered them on a pitch that assisted speedsters.

A.B. de Villiers hammered a double century and all-rounder Jacques Kallis a ton to puncture the Indian bowling attack to raise almost 500 runs after speedsters Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Morne Morkel had drilled holes in the supposedly impregnable Indian batting to shut 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 in view of the pitch they may also change their strategy and attack with a two-pronged left-arm spin attack 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 in Kanpur and was not surprised when he saw the Green Park 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, scored 164 and Gautam Gambhir 96. Andrew Hall made 163 as an opener. Hall has since defected to the rebel Indian Cricket League and is ineligible to play for South Africa.

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 one the first one in 1996.

Overall, this is the 20th Test at the Green Park, one of the permanent Test venues, since the first one played against England in 1951-52.


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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