Dealing with bounce would shape India's fortunes

Post 1992, only Australia and England have won a Test series in the Veldt.

How the Indian batsmen negotiate the bounce on South Africa pitches could very well decide the team's fate in the upcoming series.   -  AFP

Twenty years ago in the 1996-97 series, Rahul Dravid, playing just his 17th Test match innings for India, scored 148 in the first innings of The Wanderers’ Test against the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Brian McMillian, Lance Klusener, Paul Adams and Hansie Cronje.

His previous scores on that tour were 7 and 27 not out at Kingsmead where India was shot out for 100 and 66, 2 and 12 at Newlands, Cape Town when India improved, and yet was bowled out for 359 and 144.

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Dravid was 24, and at the press conference, he said without any qualms that it took him three Tests to get used to the "bounce" in the rainbow nation. How well the young Dravid then adjusted in that first innings was reflected in the second, when he made 81. With a bit of luck, India could have won the third Test, but rain, Darryl Cullinan (122 not out) and Klusener dashed the visitor's hopes.

Dravid topped the tour average with 277 runs (55.40) and was ahead of Sachin Tendulkar (241, 40.17, 169 in first innings of the second Test), Sourav Ganguly (202, 33.67, 73 and 60 in the third Test) and Mohammad Azharuddin (160, 26.67, 115 in the first innings of the second Test).

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V.V.S.Laxman, who made an attractive unbeaten 35 in the second Test at Newlands, was injured facing the fourth ball in the third Test and retired without scoring. He had an average of 40, having made five in the first innings at Newlands.

India had won the previous home series against South Africa 2-1 (won in Ahmedabad and Kanpur and lost in Kolkata) and lost 0-2 the away series. It was a trifle unfortunate that cloud cover over at Kingsmead and the expert handling of the ball by Donald, Pollock, McMillan and Klusener did not allow its batsmen to settle down.

The home team itself could not make more than 235 and 239, thanks to outstanding undertakings by Javagal Srinath (2 for 36 and 5 for 60) and Venkatesh Prasad (3 for 80 and 5 for 93). The team led by Tendulkar showed improvement making 359 in the first innings of the second Test and 410 and 266 for 8 in the third Test.

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Having played the three-Test series against Sri Lanka on flat decks in Nagpur and Delhi, the Indian batsmen would be faced with the immediate task of dealing with lift by playing the horizontal bat shots which Tendulkar (15 Tests, 1161 runs at 46.44 in South Africa, 5 x 100s, 3 x 50s) played exceptionally well. Then Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag demonstrated the "upper cut" to race to centuries in Bloemfontein in the 2011 series.

Tendulkar is second only to England’s Walter Hammond (15 Tests, 1447 at 62.91,  4 x 100s, 9 x 50s) among the top overseas run-getters, but he is the only overseas batsman to score five centuries in South Africa. Dravid is second among Indians with  624 runs from 11 Tests. Laxman has scored 566 from 10,  Ganguly 506 from eight and Virender Sehwag, 382 from eight with 1 x 100 and  2 x 50s.

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Among the current lot, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has scored 370 from seven Tests (1 x 50), Cheteshwar Pujara, 311 from four (1 x 100, 1 x 50), Virat Kohli, 272 from two (1 x 100, 1 x 50), Ajinkya Rahane, 209 from two (2 x 50s), Murali Vijay 176 from three ( 1 x 50).

Gautam Gambhir - not in the touring party - has been successful scoring 242 from two Tests at 60.50 (3 x 50s). Shikhar Dhawan made 13 and 15 at the Wanderers and 29 and 19 four years ago. In 2009, Rohit Sharma played 16 IPL matches in South Africa and Wriddhiman Saha featured in eight games. K.L. Rahul was part of the India under-19 team that played in South Africa in 2009 and Pandya has played in Australia, but not in South Africa.

India's batting depth and variety give plenty of optimism, but the team’s first exacting task would be to get used to the bounce and the natural variations of the pitch as quickly as possible, just like a handful of their predecessors did.

That Kohli's men are not going to play any warm-up game will only compound their challenges. A good outcome in the opening Test at Newlands could shape the tour for India.

Test series results in South Africa post 1992

Australia: Won five and drawn two
England: Won two, lost two and drawn one.
 South Africa versus the rest
Won three against Bangladesh
Won five against India and drawn one
Won six  against New Zealand
Won four against Pakistan and drawn one
Won five against Sri Lanka
Won four against the West Indies
Won two against Zimbabwe