Exciting series on the cards

R. RAGU

Graeme Smith will have the onerous task of keeping his team together as there is bound to be some discontent among the players given the controversies that erupted prior to their departure.

The South African skipper Graeme Smith will be hoping to continue the winning streak as his team takes on India in a three-Test series. The series will be significant for both the teams and for some individuals.

The South Africans have started off well this year by winning both the Test and ODI series against the West Indies and Bangladesh. Smith himself ran into form against the West Indies and continued to pile up runs in Bangladesh. His record-breaking par tnership with Neil McKenzie will obviously go down as a highlight in his career, but he will be aware that playing India in its own backyard will be a different proposition altogether.

Smith will have the onerous task of keeping his team together as there is bound to be some discontent among the players given the controversies that erupted prior to their departure. South African cricket has been smothered at times by the political interventions in the selection of players, and it is something that the cricketers have to probably live with. Despite the positive statements coming from Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, it will be a real trying period for Smith as there is a lot at stake for the South Africans. They would like to retain their position in the one-dayers and more importantly, they would want to climb a notch or two higher in the Test rankings. While they can probably fancy their chances in the one-dayers, South Africa’s success in Tests will depend on their batsmen’s ability to handle quality spin bowling.

The South Africans have enough firepower in their pace attack and Dale Steyn will be the man to watch. He is quick and can be accurate more often than not and as such he can cause discomfort to the best of batsmen. However, it remains to be seen how he adapts in terms of length on the low bounce pitches of India.

Steyn will be the trump card for Smith but the Indian pitches will test his temperament as well as his acumen. Moreover, he will be up against real classy batsmen who are not averse to playing the quick bowlers. Steyn will have to learn the ropes in quick time to prise them out. Of course, he will have the experienced Makhaya Ntini supporting him from the other end, but it will not be the same as bowling either at Kingsmead or the Wanderers.

As far as the Indians are concerned, they will be brimming with confidence after their recent display in Australia. They will have a new coach after a long time, and it is just a coincidence that Gary Kirsten will be taking guard in his new assignment against his own country. However, these things are quite common what with most countries hiring foreign coaches, and one can expect Kirsten to approach his current job in the same hardnosed manner that he batted.

Kirsten will take time to settle down, but the fact that India are playing against a team that Kirsten knows well will ease the pressure on him to a certain extent. As usual, curiosity will get the better of many to see how he handles the Indian players. His predecessor ran into rough weather as his no nonsense method was not in sync with some of the established members of the Indian side.

Kirsten is probably taking up the assignment at just about the right time when Indian cricket is on a high, and with a young side also passing muster in Australia, he need not go on the backfoot if and when he wants to drop a senior player.

Kirsten’s biggest challenge will be in gaining the confidence of the players as they have been used to handling things on their own and in their own fashion. Of course, India’s Test and ODI skippers, Kumble and Dhoni, are positive individuals and one cannot foresee any problems. However, the key will be in the manner in which he handles the rest of the team members. The cultural differences notwithstanding, one has to realise that this is Kirsten’s first assignment with a team at the senior level and hence he needs to hit the right note with the players first up.

India’s new coach will be hoping to start on a winning note, and considering the fact that the Indians have done well in Australia, the expectations will be high.

India will depend on their spinners to do the job given that the medium-pace attack is depleted without the new find Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. Then, of course, the Indians, of late, have shown that playing as a team can produce results even against the best and that too against all odds.

With both South Africa and India looking at a whole lot of things to achieve, the series promises to be an exciting one and the cricket lovers in the country can look forward to some great entertainment.