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If Indians fail, the knives will be out

This tour could be a watershed for many Indians and they must be worried about the wickets, writes Barry Richards.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2006 12:34 IST

This tour to South Africa could be a watershed for many members of the Indian squad and they must be a little apprehensive about the type of wickets they will play on.

In recent years, as with most countries, the wickets in South Africa have been less sporting than the past but they will still offer the quicker bowlers something.

The Champions Trophy disappointed all of India and the un-Indian tracks of Mohali didn’t help their cause, but the pitches should not be used as an excuse for some indifferent shot selection.

A legacy of years of being able to “stand and deliver” without regard for any lateral movement — it was bowlers’ revenge at the Champions Trophy and many Indian batsmen were just not able to cope with a different mindset. And that will be required in South Africa for them to regain lost ground.

There are some dependable members — Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and of course Sachin Tendulkar — but they need to pull the younger and more fragile members of the squad along. Failure brings doubt, doubt brings tension and the combination is not easy to overcome. Ask Marcus Trescothick!

I think a few young and not-so-young players are having a few Marcus moments. That’s not to trivialise what could be a career-threatening situation, but at Test level the kitchen is hot and sometimes players of a certain mindset find it hard to cope.

They are happiest with the likes of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, but you need to prove yourself against real opposition and take on the mantle in tough situations,

Dravid, Kumble and Tendulkar have all done it thanks to their mental strength as well as their talent. Greg Chappell is someone who has looked failure in the eye and been strong enough to come back against a battery of West Indian fast bowlers the likes of whom we haven’t seen since.

Talking of Chappell, who has come under scrutiny for  policies that haven’t pleased many ex-players. It will be a tough couple of months for him to try and keep his charges focussed. I’m sure he still enjoys enormous support from Dravid but foreign conditions can bring out the worst in a touring party and it doesn’t take much for the infighting to start.

England players have also had that trouble and for the coach it is an added weight that he could well do without. It’s not just on the field that you have to put in effort. Off it, homesickness can wreak havoc, especially if you start the tour poorly.

Chappell thinks very highly of Virender Sehwag, and would have been relying heavily on his support. Another chink? Only time will tell, but Sehwag is a match-winner, especially in one-day cricket.

The smaller and quicker grounds in South Africa would have suited his style perfectly. Sadly, it is not to be, and his possible loss will sadden not only India but also for South African spectators, who revel in his style of cricket.

The crunch, however, lies in Indian bowling and South Africa will be very keen to exploit any lack of confidence among the Indian quickies. Again, Irfan Pathan is the key man. He has had an indifferent season but South African conditions sometimes help those who swing the ball. That to me is the absolute key.

Swing the ball a la Chaminda Vaas and you don’t have to be express to seriously trouble the South African top order. Even Jacques Kallis has trouble with the left-armer swinging it in to the right-hander.

South Africa must start favourites on home turf and have been injury-free but the Wanderers has a knack of throwing up surprises by scores. It is a lightning-fast outfield so fielding is not such a key, but bowling is tough.

It will be a real test for India and they will be under the spotlight. The pattern of this tour will be — win it and the Indians conquer all, lose it and the knives will be out.