Although India have a great spin tradition, their pacers have also been making significant contributions in the last many years. And on pitches in South Africa that offer seam and bounce, the new ball bowlers will hold the key for the visitors in the two-Test series to be played in Johannesburg and Durban.
While the onus will be on the pace department, led by Zaheer Khan, spinners will be expected to play a crucial supporting role. R Ashwin, who has cemented his place as the leading spinner, and left-armer Pragyan Ojha are the specialists at MS Dhoni’s disposal with Ravindra Jadeja a vital third option.
Having reaped success in friendly conditions at home with the SG ball with its pronounced seam, it will be a challenge for Ashwin and Ojha to repeat the same with the Kookaburra ball that will be used. They do not possess much experience of playing the longer-format in alien conditions, but will still have to make an impact to ensure they are not labelled as mere sub-continent specialists. Ashwin became the quickest Indian to the 100-wicket mark in the second Test against West Indies last month, but the off-spinner has taken just nine wickets from three Tests abroad, all in Australia in 2011/12. Ojha’s opportunities away from home too have come in the sub-continent (Bangladesh and Sri Lanka).
However, Dhoni backed both before the team’s departure on Sunday. “It’s very important we start making them play (abroad). Otherwise this question will be asked five years later as well. At the same time, they don’t have much experience outside India. Everybody starts from scratch, even the greatest of cricketers – spinner or fast bowler. We have to see. Maybe he (Ashwin) turns out to be brilliant outside India. He may become better than what he already has been in India. Unless you go out there and fight it out, you don’t really get to know how good he is.”
Ashwin realises the task in hand. In a recent interview to the BCCI website, he said, “I know one thing – performing well overseas brings you a lot of respect. That respect is earned through experience; the conditions and surfaces vary vastly and to a greater degree. I know that the odds will be stacked against me. That challenge gives me a kick to push further and achieve more. It will be a lovely challenge to play overseas, but I am not under any undue pressure.”