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The big battle...bring it on

cricket Updated: Dec 12, 2010 11:35 IST
Subhash Rajta
Subhash Rajta
Hindustan Times
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India will begin their ultimate test to reinforce their number one ranking in Test cricket next week. Once happy to defend their home record and pull off a rare Test win against major teams on their turf, India will attempt to subdue the formidable South Africa on their home turf.

There are many things going for India. Openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir down to the experienced middle order trio are all in great nick and the team would hope to benefit from reaching South Africa early to train with coach Gary Kirsten's vital inputs.

Although Indian fans get more excited when the team gear up to take on Australia, the slide of the indisputable former number one is showing no signs of halting in the Ashes. And the South Africa tour perhaps could underline whether world cricket - both in terms of popularity and commercial interest - is firmly changing direction.

However, one bit of statistics alone shows what lies in store for India. Out of 12 Tests they have played in South Africa, they have won just one, although that breakthrough came on the last tour. Although India went on to lose the next two tests on that trip, the batsmen are in great form and their confidence is high after the win over Kiwis.

South African fast bowlers have hit hard and decisively everytime. How well the in-form Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman counter that menace in what could well be their final Test tours of South Africa may seal the outcome.

South Africa will not need much extra motivation, especially in the knowledge that one of their finest test batsmen and an acute cricketing brain will be guiding India's fortunes.

Although India go into the South Africa series as the world's best ranked side, the challenge of posting a first series win remains as huge as it was during their first visit, way back in 1992-93. "Pace and bounce have been the reason behind our undoing in South Africa. Batsmen have struggled to adapt to the hostile conditions. And this time we haven't played even a single tour game," said former all rounder Manoj Prabhakar, who was a member of the first touring party.

Gary Kirsten's training methods in Cape Town have included net sessions on designer pitches to prepare the batsmen for the short-pitched stuff.

The team will be glad Zaheer Khan is back to full fitness but support from Ishant Sharma and S.Sreesanth will be crucial.

A tour win will give the golden generation great satisfaction as they hand over the baton.

All said, it will be no routine African safari for India. Traditionally hunted, they will have to turn the tables on the hunters. And expert ones at that.