India tour of South Africa – what to expect?

The Indian team is about to embark on an important tour to South Africa in a few days. In the last couple of months there had been much speculation as to whether the tour will go ahead or not after Haroon Lorgat was chosen to head the South African cricket board. The BCCI had made its displeasure known in no uncertain terms as far as this appointment was concerned since during his tenure at the head of the ICC Lorgat had made several decisions that had gone against the richest board in the world. The BCCI had gone so far as to warn Cricket South Africa that the repercussions of this appointment could be really serious and it really kept its word.

Initially when the schedule for the tour was announced by CSA it comprised 4 tests, 7 ODIs and a couple of T20 encounters. However, the BCCI proceeded to first reject the fixtures on the grounds that they had not been consulted for the same, then got busy with the preparations for the last hurrah of Sachin Tendulkar and after several discussions and assurances that Lorgat shall be kept out of matters pertaining to India, agreed to pay a severely truncated series of 2 tests and 3 one day games.

This entire affair has hurt CSA in several ways. First of all, it has lost out on a lot of revenue owing to the truncated schedule and this will affect its projected income for this financial year. Second of all, it has soured the cordial relations shared over the years by the two boards. From a cricketing point of view, though, this background is only expected to make the whole series a very exciting affair. One can expect that the South Africans will be really smarting and on the cricket pitch will be looking to make life as uncomfortable as possible for the Indians. The question is what can the common Indian fan expect from the series?

To start off, this is an extremely important series for India since this is the first time that a certain player named Sachin Tendulkar will be missing from the team sheet. MS Dhoni may have had a youthful squad that is high on promise but he also needs to understand that he is right now the most experienced batsman and the wicketkeeper and skipper as well. So he will have to play many roles at once. The team has virtually no experience of the condition and he will be expected to lead with example and be counted on every occasion the team needs him. Till date he has performed these roles admirably and one only hopes that he carries on in this tour as well.

As things stand now, the most experienced player in the team is Zaheer Khan and he can be expected to play a major role in mentoring the young bowlers in the team. Coach Duncan Fletcher has immense experience of these conditions but then he is only the coach and not a player. However, this is a crucial tour and his knowledge and composure will play a major role in calming the team.

The wickets, as we all know will be green and hard, and this is where the authorities at the BCCI could have planned it better. They could have played a 3 test series with a couple of practice matches thrown in and then played the limited overs leg at a later date. The only positive aspect of the present schedule is that the one day games will kick the tour off and Indians, especially the batsmen, may be able to utilize these games and have some idea of the conditions. However, one day games and test matches are different propositions altogether and it remains to be seen as to how the Indians cope with the extra pace and bounce on offer.

From the point of view of results one should not expect too much because of several reasons. First of all, the team, especially the batting line-up is without much experience. They may have been able to cope at home against a West Indies that had to make room for Darren Sammy and did not have the likes of Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach to properly test the Indian batsmen. The South African attack is in a different plane altogether with the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander with Kallis and Tahir to back them up. In fact, the Indian bowlers may have a better chance of making an impression over there than the batsmen. The form and quality of Indian seamers, especially Mohammad Shami, may leave the South Africans a little weary, especially as far as making the wickets too bowler friendly is concerned.

It is absolutely right that India has built up some momentum with a series of crushing victories against the West Indies and it will be looking to use this during their tour against the South Africans. The Proteas have just now lost a series against Pakistan, whom they beat comfortably in their own backyard a few weeks ago. In fact, this could be a golden opportunity for India to win the one day series in South Africa for the first time ever and use that success to push hard in the tests as well.

The Indian team will be well served if it looks to gather experience on this tour and understand each others’ games even better. With this tour they should be able to understand what works in conditions that are mostly alien to them and how well they gel with each other when things are going against them. It is said that tours to countries like Australia, South Africa and England separate the men from the boys and the Indian cricketing public can be sure of one thing – this tour will be a really hard one for the Indian team but it will separate the best from the rest and help unearth the next generation of champions who will get better with age and help the team earn more accolades and thus make the Indian fans happier than before. That shall be the biggest plus of this tour.