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Kumble, Sourav India?s best bet

Pace, pace, pace - not a pretty plan, but South Africa are going ahead with it at the Wanderers, writes Barry Richards.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2006 00:23 IST

Pace, pace, pace - not a pretty plan, but South Africa are going ahead with it at the Wanderers in the obvious belief that it will give India nightmares.

Traditionally, too, spinners have seldom featured at the Wanderers. It is a small ground with not much turn so Harbhajan Singh’s omission is hardly a surprise. Though it is always tough to leave a slow bowler out, especially a match winner, in a five-day game, Harbhajan’s mental state is probably not quite strong enough.

So it is perhaps best to play Anil Kumble at the Wanderers and Harbhajan at Cape Town, a wicket that will provide spin on days four and five.

On South Africa’s part, the omission of Paul Adams is once again a signal that he will hardly threaten India over the series. If he does, then they are in worse mental shape than I thought. Once again, it is more likely that he will play at Cape Town, a ground he knows well.

However, I digress. Coming back to Friday’s game, I think it is a very positive move to bring Kumble back. South Africa do not play spinners well, and because Kumble is such a fiercely aggressive cricketer, you can be sure he will be fully prepared to bump chests with the South Africans and look them in the eye, while his colleagues have been prone to look away.

So mental strength is never a problem with Kumble. Even if he can’t take wickets, he can keep the runs down while the quicks attack from one end. Whatever he does, he is always an asset.

Regarding VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, however, I’m not so sure about their temperaments going into this match. Laxman, for instance, certainly has the pedigree to bat at number three, but does he have the heart, given his position as a player who is always on trial?

Never has he been sure of a place in the side, and though he is capable of handling fast bowling well, the jury’s still out for me.

Sourav, similarly, will be sorely tested mentally. If he proves adept at handling whatever the South Africans throw at him and looks them in the eye, well and good. If not, everyone will soon be saying: ‘Oh here he goes again.’ So it is absolutely vital that he remains positive.

However, the biggest problem about the inclusion of these three is that it will substantially weaken the fielding, so those South African batsmen looking for cheap runs, can steal quick singles and get out of trouble.

However, the trio are perhaps India’s best bet in on this tour, and I look forward to the prospect of some competitive cricket at last.