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India to clash with South Africa today

Conditions are going to play a major part in this first Test in Chennai, if not all series, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Mar 26, 2008 09:05 IST
Anand Vasu

There's a standing joke at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. On the eve of a Test match, some unsuspecting reporter will ask the curator how the pitch will play. Without fail he will say that the fast bowlers will get assistance on the first day, the batsmen will enjoy the next two days, and the spinners will come into their own on the last two.

However no one seems to have informed the pitch about this, for it's difficult to remember when last this script was followed, and it looks no different as South Africa and India begin a three-week journey of braving the elements.

Jacques Kallis thought the pitch would turn from Day One, but believed Dale Steyn would be a major threat. Virender Sehwag said the heat and humidity would be a major factor but that the Indians had all grown up playing here so it would not be a problem for them.

Conditions will play a role

The players now say so many different things at press conferences, reporters might soon have to carry lie detectors with them rather than tape recorders.

The fact is that the conditions are going to play a major part in this Test, if not all series.

Another fact is that one team is going to have to play very badly, or the other very well, to force a result.

Add to this the fact that South Africa's strength has been their relentless pace bowling, while India's has been their run-hungry batting, and you have the perfect recipe for turgid cricket.

Selection is not an issue

Team selection should not pose a major headache for Anil Kumble, as the temptation to play a third seamer will be reduced by the conditions, and the option of employing a third spinner nullified by the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and Sehwag. Anything but a two spinner, two paceman attack will be a major surprise, and the batting spots are all taken.

Pace will be key for SA

South Africa too will most likely fall back on their strength, which is pace plus Kallis, augmented by the spin of Paul Harris.

They could have done with a second quality spinner, but with Robin Peterson being in the Harris mould — and only arriving at the last moment because he stayed in South Africa to be with his wife for the birth of their child — only one spinner will play.

This makes Kallis's role crucial. Barrel-chested and stout legged, Kallis has always had the ability to swing the ball conventionally.

Recently, and the Bangladesh series bore this out, Kallis has mastered the art of reverse-swing.

With the only grass on the pitch being dead, and the sun beating down as it is, any moisture in the pitch is unlikely to be a factor. In the end, it could be Kallis who is bowling the long spells, especially if partnerships develop.

Kumble’s challenge

For India, Kumble's challenge will be rotating bowlers and keeping them fresh, using them optimally, while plugging away from one end himself.

The batsmen are more than capable of taking care of themselves, and if Wasim Jaffer's form was a concern he couldn't find a better place to rehabilitate himself.

A strong start will be crucial, whichever side manages to win the right to bat first, and if a team puts runs on the board, expect a long, hard slog for the bowlers.