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South Africa Tour of India, 2010

February 4, 2010

India’s ascension to the top of the test rankings, their apparently bare Test calendar for 2010 and the media’s newfound love for our best interests saved this series from being shelved altogether.

It’s a good one, against our closest competitors according to rankings, Test matches, ODIs, no T20s but also, very importantly, NO Sri Lanka.

India (first Test): MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, S Badrinath, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, M Vijay, Sudeep Tyagi, Abhimanyu Mithun, Wriddhiman Saha.

South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, Mark Boucher (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe

Dravid scored against SL with a vengeance and carried on in the same vein against Bangladesh but he forgot to hop when on Nelson in the second test only to find his jaw broken.

The very little amount of tests they play gives teams like India no chance to try out their youngsters and now they have no option but to just throw their bench strength in the deep end against South Africa to see if they sink or swim.

Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Laxman are all in great touch but the uncertainty over Laxman is another reason for bother. I can’t imagine Rohit Sharma making a big impact if he were to play, an uncertain 15 maybe but it’s easy to imagine Steyn, Morkel and Parnell exploiting his patience with short balls.

Vijay has shown that he belongs and it’s now up to him to demand inclusion in the strongest middle order in the world should the rotation policy ever come back. Yuvraj’s contributions against Sri Lanka may not look impressive in scorecards but his runs mattered, especially on the first morning at Ahmedabad when he started the rebuilding with Dravid. He wasn’t fluent against Bangladesh but he will be missed unless Vijay delivers.

Badrinath has very big boots to fill but that just makes him the wild card, doesn’t it? Let’s hope he doesn’t blow his chance after having waited all these years for it.

Ishant has been Zaheer’s most constant partner in India’s pace attack and is in excellent form in tests. The duo have been impeccable, they know how to take 20 wickets bowling on the roads of India and they’re the ones it all comes down to in case there’s a Centurion/Newlands repeat.

Harbhajan’s place as a spinner is locked in while Mishra and Ojha are being rotated regardless of performance. Johann Botha, who modelled his action after Bhajji will hope to out perform his counterparts. Paul Harris’s recent form in the series against England in which  he took a beating while Graeme Swann dominated the South African batsmen casts a doubt over his inclusion.

Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel bowled their hearts, guts, backs and pants off against England and got their due at the Wanderers with a little help from Wayne Parnell. Here they will however encounter confident batsmen on pitches less punishing than the ones in South Africa.

Gambhir has perfected the art of hitting attritional, time consuming centuries and he is currently the most in form batsman in the Indian line up. Sehwag, Sachin, Laxman and Dhoni, everyone’s spanked the inexperienced Lankan and Bangladesh pace attacks of late but have the game to counter the Saffers.

Steyn has already targeted Badri, Vijay and Rohit in his pre-match comments citing their relative n00bness in international test cricket as a reason why they should be easy to crack. But that’s where Mickey Arthur helped them out so much. Steynje’s good for a plan A but it was Mickey’s help on the extensive analysis of each opposition batsman which helped them a lot over their past few seasons.

All the batsmen but for Ashwell Prince have been in good form of late. Duminy showed grit to get starts and a fifty against England despite his poor form so some more tenacity will help him out. Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers and Boucher had a good series against England bar a few untoward sessions and they can match the Indian batting line up.

How they play out Bhajji, Mishra and Ojha, especially after their floundering against Swann will decide South Africa’s campaign.

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