The Indian batting has looked extremely fragile for a long time now, ever since the series against the West Indies, in fact. That, though, has been in the one-dayers.
Now they have the Tests ahead, a mode of the game chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar has dubbed the ultimate. “We are not even thinking of the World Cup right now, this is a really important series,” he said.
With some luck he will be right, but at the moment, it looks unlikely and this series could see some interesting changes ahead for Indian cricket. We take a look at what’s up for the bats.
The Indian captain has been batting at nets and will almost certainly play the first Test (except that he will not field at the slips). Dravid, who admitted it was unfortunate that he will not be getting any games ahead of the first Test said there was no point worrying about it but worried he must be. He looked India’s best batsmen at the couple of games at the start before his freak finger injury and will know that given the way the rest have played, he will suddenly be thrust into the battle zone with almost zero preparation. It won’t be easy and he is up against a wall.
Last five Tests: 557 runs at 69.62.
This has really been a series from hell so far for opener, with things reaching a new low when he was summarily stripped of his vice-captaincy when the Test squad was announced. Sehwag, who has had a string of low scores in the one-day form of the game will really have to put his form behind him once and for all at the Wanderers come Friday. He has himself spoken of all being well once he gets time in the middle but he is just not getting that. Not for Sehwag are the batting tips that are offered and accepted by the others — he will have to come up with his own solution.
Last five Tests: 363 runs at 40.33.
After the highs of that double hundred in the West Indies, Jaffer must feel he has to suddenly come good very quickly after being unexpectedly pushed into the one-dayers and failing. His twin ducks in the tour game at Potch must be worrying, as is the manner of dismissals right through, for a lot has been said about his solid technique at the top of the order. India has suffered from a complete lack of starts and while the heat is on Sehwag (because of his star cast), Jaffer cannot afford to fail either. He seems visibly worried but will have to put that pressure of performing away for now and focus on the game.
Last five Tests: 393 runs at 43.66.
The Delhi opener was apparently extremely downcast at being overlooked for the one-day series and probably rightly so. But that is done and he is here now and in a situation where there is every possibility that he might suddenly be thrown into the deep end on Durban’s pacey wicket if there is another opening failure this weekend. Gambhir, who will know Jaffer was preferred to him by the selectors for the one-dayers because they thought the latter had better technique than him on bouncy wickets, would want to prove a point. Can he if called up? He will have to deal with his old nemesis, and leave alone stuff outside the offstump.
Last five Tests: 198 runs at 28.28.
By every account, the one thing worrying Tendulkar is his own cricketing mortality and that is affecting the way he plays. While he does not have the best of records against the Proteas (who does anyway?) he has played better against an arguably better Proteas pace attack in the past, not to talk of other attacks on SA soil, notably Pakistan.
He will have to put away whatever inner demons are bothering him and play with the freedom of the past, if that is possible. Again, with Tendulkar, it is not that he is getting out, it is how he is getting out and how quickly, that is worrisome.
Last five Tests: 146 runs at 20.85.
There was apparently a lot of pent-up anger in Laxman on account of the continual one-day overlooking. But his unexpected elevation to the Test vice-captaincy must have gone some way in assuaging that hurt. While the one-day match at Centurion saw him last a ball, he spent a long while in the middle at the tour game at Potch and will hopefully have sorted out his head about the wickets ahead. He has played better than many on the bouncy wickets of Australia against quality pace attacks and he will have to summon up that same approach and spirit if India have to survive here.
Last five Tests: 257 runs at 32.12.
MS DHONI/ DINESH KARTHIK
Dhoni has played a couple of lovely cameos in the one-dayers but has thrown it all away for the most with some insensible hitting. He too will be under a lot of pressure, for Dinesh Karthik, who was played purely as a batsman during the one-dayers, has looked better when given the chance and seemed by far the most assured of the batsmen during the one-dayers and at nets. Plus, when it comes to the actual wicket-keeping stakes, the reserve keeper might actually have the edge. An interesting contest on the cards and one quite unbelievable a year ago.
Last five Tests: 237 runs at 26.33 (Dhoni) 148 runs at 21.14 (Karthik).
For Ganguly, the question is as much a matter of his own survival as India’s. He will be under intense scrutiny outside the field not to mention under intense pressure on the field, with the Proteas saying that he will not be a problem to deal with. He made a point in the first innings at Potch but diluted it somewhat with the ugly-looking dismissal of old in the second.
But there is no doubting the former Indian skipper’s determination and if anything can carry him through, it will have to be that. This is not his favourite kind of wicket either.
Last five Tests: 171 runs at 28.50.