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Test of character in the fast lane

As the Indian team embarks for South Africa, coach Greg Chappell dismisses history... and draws strength from it, writes Amol Karhadkar.

india Updated: Nov 15, 2006 17:17 IST

After enduring a torrid time on the pitches with slow, low bounce in the West Indies, Malaysia and India over the last six months, the Indian cricket team on Monday night left for an eight-week tour of South Africa, where they are certain to encounter both bounce and movement.

Though the Indian batsmen are not considered effective on pitches where the ball seams and rises, Rahul Dravid said the conditions will provide them with an opportunity to play shots.

“Adjusting to the bouncing ball will be critical,” Dravid said here on Monday. “The wickets will give us a chance to play all the shots in the book... On slow and low wickets, we can play in only one or two areas. However, the bouncier pitches over there will give us a lot more options to play shots.”

Coach Greg Chappell endorsed the view. “As a batsman, I always preferred to play on such tracks,” he said. “A batsman can cut the ball, pull it and can also play more horizontal bat shots on these wickets.”

Dravid, however, did say that after a poor beginning to the season, in which India have won only three of their 13 one-dayers since May, the team has to take the gruelling tour as a “challenge”. India play five one-dayers, a 20-20 international (first for India), three Tests and two first-class games on the tour.

“We haven’t done well in the last few months,” Dravid said. “But I want to view this tour as a challenge. The batsmen have to be more patient. It will also be a test of their courage and character.” The selectors have included Wasim Jaffer in the team as an additional opener for the one-day series that starts on Sunday.

“It’s always good to have specialised openers,” Dravid said. “The team has done well on most of the occasions when we have been given a good start.”

Dravid also said leg-spinner Anil Kumble’s return to the one-day team will help them immensely. “Apart from his skills, his mere presence helps lift the others,” he said.

South Africa have a good track record on their home soil, and the current pace attack is one of the best in the world. While Shaun Pollock brings in tons of experience, Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel launch a fierce barrage on the opposition. All-rounder Jacques Kallis is as dangerous with the ball as he is with the willow.

“They rely on their pace attack,” Dravid said. “Pollock, despite reducing the pace, knows how to pick up wickets… I think he is a better bowler now than he was at the beginning of his career.” On the formidable South African batting line-up, Dravid said captain Graeme Smith and Kallis hold the key. “If we can manage to restrict the two of them, as we did in last year’s home series, we can put up a good show,” he said.

And Chappell believes India have the requisite pace battery to restrict the South African batsmen. “Our pace attack comprises bowlers who are different from one another and thus we have all the variety we need,” he said. “We have the wherewithal to win anywhere, provided we play well.

“We are often been criticised for our inexperienced pace attack, but we cannot forget that this is the same attack that helped us win a series in the West Indies after 35 years.”

Apart from their run to the final in the 2003 World Cup, India have failed to impress on any tour to South Africa since the they were taken back into international cricket 15 years ago.

Chappell, however, said they are not concerned with the past. “History is not going to play any role in the series,” he said, adding: “History said we hadn’t won a Test series in the West Indies for 35 years, but we achieved that in May.”

Barely few minutes later, though, Chappell expressed hope that ‘recent history’ will help India. “The team did an excellent job in the 2003 World Cup,” he said. “So let’s hope the streak continues.”

History, it seems, does matter to the coach, after all!

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