India tour of South Africa: How can Indians bridge the gap?

By now, every cricket fan knows that the upcoming tour of South Africa is going to be a really critical one for the Indian team. To start with from a cricketing point of view, the team is an inexperienced one and that can prove to be a major setback in the tests, if not the one dayers where the present team has been playing together for several years and has some success. From an administrative point of view India has made the South African cricket board pay for selecting Haroon Lorgat to run its proceedings by cutting down a 2 month tour to one that will barely stretch for 3 weeks.

As is known now, this decision of BCCI has caused the CSA to lose out on a substantial amount of revenue that may even lead them to face a loss for the ongoing financial year. From the point of view of the South African players, they would have been mentally charged up to take on what is regarded as one of the better teams in world cricket and the affairs of the last couple of months would have undoubtedly affected their preparations as well as morale as they were never really sure if the series was going ahead or not.

There have been suggestions in certain circles that the South African public may give the Indians a hard time but MS Dhoni has been able to put forward a calm demeanor during the team’s arrival in South Africa and suggested that his team should be equipped to handle the negative reactions, if any. These, however, are off field issues that cannot really be controlled by cricketers. What Indians can, and should focus, on is getting it right more often than not in the middle. Here are a few facts that the team think should keep in mind if it wants to make this tour a memorable one:

  • The South African one day team is in poor shape having lost the series against Pakistan. They may be very keen to move on to the series against India but at the same time they will be a little wary having lost a home series against a team they comfortably bested a few days back and so the momentum may not be with them. Even experts such as Clive Rice and Kepler Wessels have stated that the South African team may lose the one day series against India, which will be a major morale booster for the visitors.
  • The wickets will be harder and offer more pace and bounce compared to the normal levels in South Africa as well. The country, as a whole, is tremendously upset at the attitude of the BCCI surrounding this tour and there is a good chance that shall be reflected in the wickets. The Indian batsmen should realize that they need to be very precise with their footwork and judgment and should try and rotate the strike as much as possible. Big shots will not be that easy because of the quality of fast bowlers at the Proteas’ disposal. However, the Indian pacemen have been in good nick and green wickets should work in their favor as well. Instead of being cowed down at the prospect of facing the South African fast bowlers on green tops they should be thinking positively – on the lines of creating chances with the ball themselves.
  • In the ongoing Ashes, Aussies have used verbal aggression to good effect and as a worthy foil for its explosive quick bowling. It is highly possible that South Africa will go down the same route. So the Indian team shall need to be mentally very strong to bear with these periods. The matter of optimism here is that the Indian players, with the exception of Kohli, are unflappable and so should face lesser problems in coping with such issues.
  • The Indians must understand that this is a short tour where one slip up could effectively shut the team out of a series for good. So the preparation shall have to be precise. From the point of view of strategy MS Dhoni should understand that his phalanx of spinners may not prove to be so effective on the true pitches in South Africa and he may have to be flexible with the team composition. This is where I think that Irfan Pathan could have been an inspired selection.
  • The Indians are looking to win in the series. While there is nothing wrong with such a viewpoint, it perhaps needs to be acknowledged that South Africans are a better side when compared man to man against the Indians and will be playing at their own den where their record against India is pretty good. So the expectations need to be adjusted accordingly and the team should not really feel bad if it is unable to win either one of the two series.

These matches will provide a fantastic learning opportunity for the young Indian team. They will be expected to grab them with both hands and make them count when they tour New Zealand where nothing short of victory will be acceptable.