The onus will be on pacemen

There is no doubt that Mohammad Shami can be the main strike bowler if handled well enough.-VIVEK BENDRE

The likes of Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav can produce good pace, but the key will be hitting the right length.

Team India is very much aware that it will face a tough challenge in South Africa and though the focus is likely to be on the batsmen, the fortunes of the team will be dependant on the efficacy of the fast bowlers. We did see the team run into trouble on the last tour of Australia where runs were at a premium and therefore, the bowlers need to make up for shortage of runs, if need be. The conditions will be suitable for the fast bowlers to play an important part and the onus will be on them.

The return of Zaheer Khan will bring in a lot of experience along with his ability to reverse the ball. In addition, he is rated as a good mentor by the youngsters and his contribution will be critical, especially in making the youngsters raise the bar. The likes of Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav can produce good pace, but the key will be hitting the right length. They will need to bowl a fuller length than they do on the surfaces at home in order to produce the bounce. That apart, they have to be straight enough as the South African batsmen are good players of the horizontal bat shots when they are given the width.

This will be an important tour for Umesh Yadav as he needs to fulfil his promise given that Ishant Sharma has been blowing hot and cold in the recent past. The big man has the pace and the ability to swing the ball which means that he can have a telling effect if he hits the right areas. Shami has been a revelation in both Tests and One-dayers thus far and it is mostly due to the fact he can reverse the ball and he bowls a fuller length. He may go for a few runs but he has the knack of producing wicket-taking deliveries. Of course, the danger of getting carried away by the success he has had so far is always there, but there is no doubt that he can be the main strike bowler if handled well enough. Shami will do well to glean the psychological aspects of bowling from the highly experienced Zaheer Khan as being calm when conditions are conducive is extremely important.

As far as Ishant Sharma is concerned he has gradually become a victim like others, trying to swing the ball prodigiously. In trying to do that he has developed the habit of going past side on which does not facilitate either a good wrist position or a complete follow through. These attributes are vital for a fast bowler to cause discomfort to the batsmen and it is rather strange that he has not done anything to rectify these flaws. He is lucky to be given extra latitude but the time has come for him to repay the team management. The lanky bowler can be a tricky customer at his best but it is all a matter of confidence and identifying what needs to be done when things are not working out.

It remains to be seen if Dhoni will pursue with Ishant Sharma as Zaheer Khan and Shami will be the top two options. The spinners will perhaps have little role to play and the lone choice will be Ashwin. The off-spinner will have to understand he will be required to play, in that he cannot be looking at experimenting to pick up wickets. He may be required to play a passive part by drying up runs when the fast bowlers are given a break, but the frequency with which he gets wickets at home might deter him from doing so. There are times when bowlers have to play the waiting game and this will be the one series when Ashwin has to do that for the team’s cause. The bowlers will be under pressure to deliver as big scores are unlikely at venues like the Wanderers and Kingsmead.