Is the Indian team now in South Africa chasing that elusive first Test series win in that country the best ever to leave its shores? The answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’ if form, experience and balance are taken as yardsticks to judge the side’s promise and potential. Top five Indian bowlers
Former India all-rounder Madan Lal, who was the coach during the 1996-7 tour, agreed. “This team is indeed better than all the previous teams that toured South Africa and hence our best bet to set the record straight,” he said.
Many others share Madan Lal’s views. Here’s our take:
The importance of good opening stands in hostile conditions can’t be stated enough. Yet, that’s one area where all the teams in the past have struggled. Right from the first tour till the last, India juggled various opening options without success. This time around, however, India have a stable and successful opening pair in Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, and both are in good form going into the series. They are arguably the best opening pair India have ever had, and, given their record, the opening nightmare should be a thing of the past in South Africa. And in case either of them fails, standby Murali Vijay has been dependable.
The famous middle order has unfinished business in South Africa. And given how it has been shaping up in recent times, it promises to stamp its authority. Sachin Tendulkar is in the middle of probably his best run, and VVS Laxman is winning and saving matches from hopeless situations. Dravid may not be at his fluent best, but one can always trust him to raise the bar in alien conditions. And his determination to dig in under pressure remains intact.
The pace attack led by Zaheer Khan and backed by Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth is potent enough to make life tough for the batsmen. Zaheer is undoubtedly among the best in the business while the other two have also proved their ability to bowl match-changing spells.“This attack can turn the tables on the Proteas,” said former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar.
Captain, the lucky charm
India have not lost a series under the captaincy of MS Dhoni. His unpredictable and positive approach and the knack to get the best out of individuals could help him succeed where Mohammed Azharrudin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid failed. The form of the Indian team is another plus. In recent times, India have won series in England, West Indies and came back undefeated for the first time from Australia. So, the side would for sure be desperate to set the record straight on South Africa as well.
Coach Gary Kirsten could be a vital influence in this series. The former South African opening batsman knows what would be needed to post a win in his homeland. He has brought the squad to Cape Town early to get the players ready for the challenge. He is making the batmen face fast bowling on rugged net pitches to give them a taste of what he expects they would face in the series.