They might not quite travel around with the same indomitable aura that the all-conquering Australians used to in the first half of this young millennium. This despite the South Africans having raked up an unassailable overseas record that even Steve Waugh & Co never came close to matching. For, the last time the Proteas were defeated away from home in a Test series was in July 2006 against a strong Sri Lankan team. Since, they have gone around the globe either clinically outdoing opposition in their own backyard or keeping them at bay.
Aura or no aura, the Indian team director Ravi Shastri—not one to hand over even a quarter to the opposition—still acknowledges the might of the challenge that Hashim Amla & Co will pose to his young team over the next 72 days. And on Friday, he admitted that the visitors will be a tough proposition across all formats, even if their limited-overs’ record doesn’t quite mirror their invincibility in the longest format.
“You have got to respect the fact they are the No. 1 team in the world. We know what we are up against. They are a stiff opposition. They play well in overseas conditions. Better than any other side in world cricket. They travel better than any other team, and their record shows that,” said Shastri, speaking at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore.
But in true Shastri fashion, the director was quick to insist that his team wasn’t planning to sit back and get overawed by the South Africans’ reputation.
“We know what we are up against, the respect is there, but we won’t take any backward steps,” he added.
There’s more than a month to go though for the Test series to commence, however. It’ll be in coloured clothing that India and South Africa will do battle for four weeks through October. And both teams face off each other, having lost their most recent ODI series on foreign soil—with Bangladesh having upset both the heavyweights on their home soil.
But if South Africa are coming off a confident ODI series win over World Cup finalists New Zealand, India posted a historic Test series win in Sri Lanka.
While the South Africans find themselves in a transitional phase in the shorter formats, the Indian team is a lot more settled, except when it comes to the shape of their middle-order. Shastri for one believed that it was time for skipper MS Dhoni to come up the order and play a more stablizing role after having played the brutal finisher for a decade.
“Don’t you think it is about time? He has done the dirty work for donkey’s years. Give him the chance to enjoy himself. You are talking of probably one of the greatest captains and players to have played the game. I am not talking about India, talking world cricket. Check his record, what his achievements are in the shorter format of the game. I don’t think anyone will come close to him,” said Shastri.
Speaking of batting-orders, India indulged in a lot of experimentation—some forced, some out of choice—during their successful Test sojourn in Sri Lanka. To the extent that the talk during the tour very quickly shifted from aggression and the urge to play fearless cricket to the flexibility in the Indian batting-order as the series waged on. It is a trend that Shastri insists will continue come November when the two teams commence the first-ever four-match Test series involving them.
“It is not comfort zone. Nobody is in a comfort zone. It’s only when you get into a comfort zone that you say he has got out of his comfort zone. As a batsman in the top order, you should be prepared to bat everywhere. As the team demands. Now these were unforeseen circumstances otherwise they wouldn’t have had to do it. You had Shikhar injured, breaking his arm. Vijay [ruled out due to a hamstring injury]. We never had our two regular openers fully fit from the outset. If that was not the case, then things would have been different,” he said.
Sachin picks tahir as threat
For the upcoming series, Sachin Tendulkar advised caution to the Indian batsmen for their preparation against the South African bowling attack. Pacers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, incidentally, weren’t Tendulkar’s main concern. Instead he called for care when facing leg-spinner Imran Tahir. “We’ll have to play against him properly. He possibly might be one of the leading bowlers,” he says.
The former India great’s warning comes in light of Tahir being the most consistent ODI bowler for the South Africans in recent times. Even the last time India played the Proteas, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) during the World Cup, the 36-year-old was the most economical bowler for his country.
A counterproductive aspect however, comes in the form of the leg-spinner’s tendency to go for runs cheaply. On the other hand though, he has the knack of picking up wickets, each followed by his trademark sprint celebration.
Nonetheless, the Indians have a decent record against Tahir, who hasn’t played for the South African test team since December last year. Yet despite that, as Tendulkar asserts, the hosts cannot take the spinner too lightly. —ENS