Indians brace up for test by fire

Indians brace up for test by fire

South Africa set to unleash pace power on bouncy Wanderers’ pitch as first Test begins today.

In a long while, an Indian team has not entered a Test series as the underdogs, but that storyline offers a change now.

When this new-look Indian side under Mahendra Singh Dhoni faces the formidable South Africa from Wednesday in the first Test, it will be the beginning of a new chapter for them.
It will mark a complete breakaway from the old guard – Sachin Tendulkar was the last one to move away last month – that made the Indian Test team competitive in all conditions for well over a decade. But now there is a look of vulnerability about this team.

Though players such as Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who will form the fulcrum of the new Indian batting line-up, have done well in the opportunities they have got, facing a set of bowlers led by the redoubtable Dale Steyn will not be an easy task.
Of course, these young men have scored runs across the globe – in England, West Indies, Zimbabwe and at home – but the scrutiny they are going to face on a lively Wanderers pitch for the next five days will be unlike any they have experienced in the past.

Perhaps, the tag of underdogs will prove to be a blessing for they have nothing to lose, and there are plenty to gain. But for all that, they have to realise that South Africa is a not a place for adventures – from a batsman’s perspective that is. In the last couple of months, Virat, Rohit and Dhawan had entertained us with some blistering knocks against Australia and West Indies.

But they had to erase the memories of those knocks, and the ease with which they conjured them from their brain temporarily. A pace attack that contains Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Kallis will not allow a moment of respite, there won’t be a bowler whom you can pick to play your relief shots.

So, they have to curb their natural, aggressive instincts, and focus on building partnerships, humble enough to accept that sparkling stroke play – hallmark of many of them – has to be swapped with a mindset to occupy the crease and grind for runs.
Having said that the Indian bowlers too have a big responsibility to support the batsmen, and as Dhoni emphasized 20 wickets have to be taken to win a Test match.

In that context, the return of Zaheer Khan is a welcome sign. The veteran left-arm pacer had last played a Test for India in December 2012 against England at Kolkata, and since then he has been on a journey to regain fitness and form.

The quest had taken him to far places such as France, but the end result has been just brilliant – emergence of a fitter, hungrier Zaheer. The Mumbaikar will be eager to mark his return to top-flight cricket with a special performance, and the thought of his stranglehold over South African skipper Graeme Smith will be an added motivation for him. Zaheer has dismissed Smith 13 times in international cricket.

Those little statistical nuggets will certainly offer personal comfort, but the presence of Zaheer means much more from a team’s perspective. Ishant Sharma – despite him having played more than 50 Tests – Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav will require an experience voice to guide them when the going gets tough against the Proteas.

There are some indefatigable run-machines in this South African line-up. Apart from Smith and Kallis, the home side has Hashim Amla, one of the best contemporary batsmen, the explosive AB de Villiers, and the solid Faf du Plesis – all capable of building tall castles of runs, and all of them boast of a Test average of around or over 50. 

World’s best pace attack, a top-class batting line-up, South Africa have everything going for them, and a daunting situation for India.
But will the adversity bring the best out of them?

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