Preview: SA pace vs Indian batting

Updated: 08 April 2008 08:25 IST

Dale Steyn, who has set up many South African wins off late, would be the biggest threat to Indian batting.

Preview: SA pace vs Indian batting

New Delhi:

One factor could decide the Test series between India and South Africa: India's ability to play pace.

South Africa are on a high in Tests. They've won 11 of their last 15 Tests thanks largely to one man who's made the ball talk.

Dale Steyn, the bowler everyone's talking about, has an astounding 54 wickets from his last seven Tests. If India can handle him, the remaining South African attack looks threadbare.

Also at stake is India's World No. 2 ranking, which is a couple of points away from South Africa's reach.

If South Africa win 1-0 or 2-1, they will move ahead of India to second place, while a draw or series win would ensure India stay at the second spot.

India's batsmen will derive confidence from their performances in Australia. To succeed in this series, India must neutralise Steyn and Makhaya Ntini and feast on South Africa's inexperienced second line of attack.

Chennai, the venue for the first Test, has been an Indian stronghold. India have lost only once here in 22 years - it took Pakistan the collective skills of Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain to win by a desperately margin in 1999.

If Graeme Smith's men lose in Chennai, it's unlikely they will keep Gerald Majola's words of "thumping India". The next two games will be played on batting paradises not known to produce results.

At Ahmedabad, four of the last five Tests have been drawn, while that number is 12 out of 19 at Kanpur's Green Park, though India have won twice in the last three games there, and that may only worry the tourists.

On paper, India are better equipped to deal with these pitches. Their spin attack comprised of skipper Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla looks formidable against Robin Peterson and Paul Harris for South Africa.

Not to mention India's batting that also compares nicely. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman, all have big Test runs in recent outings.

Under the scanner would be Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid, who didn't enjoy great fortune against Australia.

Dravid has now gone 30 innings without a hundred against a major team. When your name is Dravid, you would be very keen to change that statistic - especially with young talent breathing down your neck.

Jaffer's spot may be the contentious one. One may not rule out him giving way to Irfan Pathan at the top if India field three spinners. It's unlikely Yuvraj Singh would be brought in at the moment.

For South Africa, Graeme Smith has enjoyed good form in recent times. He and his opening partner Niel McKenzie scored the world record for first wicket partnerships, in Bangladesh.

More important would be how their middle order copes with Indian spin. Jacques Kallis, who's always been an adversary to India, will need to bring in all his experience.

It's also the beginning of an interesting phase in Indian cricket. Gary Kirsten, India's head coach, will be at the centre of affairs, plotting the downfall of the team he played 101 Tests for.

Topics : Cricket India South Africa
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