India tour of South Africa: It's time to play the trump card | india | Hindustan Times
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India tour of South Africa: It's time to play the trump card

The first Test series after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar -- the last member of the golden generation and chief mentor to the young brigade -- was always expected to make fresh demands on MS Dhoni.

india Updated: Dec 17, 2013 00:57 IST
Khurram Habib

The first Test series after the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar -- the last member of the golden generation and chief mentor to the young brigade -- was always expected to make fresh demands on MS Dhoni.

On Monday, the additional responsibility that Dhoni the skipper took it upon himself at the nets was to give batsmen throwdowns, from the start of the session in the morning till it ended.

With the ball dispenser in hand, MS, creditably, went on and on. Over the past few days, talk around his team has been confidence-shattering with the likes of Virat Kohli, lynchpin of the batting line-up, being forced to prove themselves all over again. Thus, it was only apt that Dhoni took charge before the first Test gets underway on Wednesday.

The thing that gives the skipper heart and keeps his mind afloat amid all this talk is India's record at the Wanderers. It is more impressive than even Durban. India have never lost a Test at this venue. They survived on their first tour in 1992, almost won on the next in 1997, and won in 2006; that can infuse a lot of the sorely needed self-belief.

Missing big names
But then, as Morne Morkel points out, there is 'no Tendulkar and no Dravid' this time, although he adds rather appreciatively that these guys like to go for their shots and after the bowlers. The onus of holding the fort will be on Dhoni.

That apart, the psychological attack with words 'bounce and pace' that the Proteas have made is as big a challenge as Dale Steyn and Co in action. Dhoni, a tough cookie, may have to shepherd his team out of that block.

"He is very important. His role becomes more significant considering he is the only batsman who got in line against the quickies during the One-day internationals. He is the most experienced player," says Proteas middle-order batsman, Daryll Cullinan.

Gloves are off
Over the last couple of series, Dhoni hasn't really excelled on the wicket-keeping front. He has squandered a few chances, and although they didn't cost the team much, he will have to be on the ball against South Africa over the next fortnight.

The slip-ups probably reflect his workload. Just before this series, some former India 'keepers told HT that there are technical deficiencies and that in terms of skill he doesn't match up to the likes of Nayan Mongia. But it is the impact he brings with his batting that makes him one of a kind. "That (chances going down) can happen. He plays so much of cricket. It can have an effect on your body and mind," explains Cullinan.

Yet, if someone can get out of that rut, it is the skipper, whose favourite line is 'be in the present'. Despite issues with his 'keeping, he is quite rightly more concerned about other things on his plate.

The important question is where Dhoni will bat. Morkel said the wicket will be good for batting although there will be bounce; the first few overs against India will be crucial. Over the past few years, Dhoni has come up the order in ODIs to give impetus to the innings. Although it is unlikely he will do that here, it will be interesting to see his reaction if India lose a few early wickets.