It's the season to blossom with the cherry
If there was further evidence needed that India must be tested abroad more often, it is in the fact the ongoing battle against South Africa at Johannesburg is India’s first Test abroad in 23 months.
This makes the International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme look pretty warped.
And if you are tired of hearing about how India don’t tour very well, the truth is that this still holds true to an extent because the last Test tour ended in a fabulous 4-0 win for Australia in their summer of 2011-12. The tour before that was the one to England in 2011 where the hosts won by a similar margin.
Save the 2012 series loss to England, Indian cricket resembled a prosperous rose garden at home.
The Indian cricket team is overflowing with talent. The bowling appears weak, but if a fit set of fast bowlers is out on the field, they won’t be short of success for long. Zaheer Khan, who is making a comeback on this tour, knows what kind of effect breakdowns can have on a team. When he limped off at Lord’s in 2011, he took away a good amount of India’s chances with him. I believe the team let Zaheer’s absence affect them greatly and lion-hearted Praveen Kumar ended up with most of the load. There was no way a team could win with a pace attack so fragile. Left-arm swing bowler RP Singh being summoned from his holiday in Miami for the fourth and final Test at the Oval was a piece of extraordinary selection and even Ian Botham, given to hyperbole, could be forgiven for saying that Singh’s first over was the worst he had seen.
An overall fit bowling unit can do wonders. Ten years ago, Sourav Ganguly’s team deprived Australia, the best team in the world then, of a series win with a pace attack which was nowhere near all-star status. Yet Zaheer Khan got a fifer in the drawn Brisbane Test and Ajit Agarkar got six in an innings at Adelaide which contributed in good measure in ensuring India drew first blood in a series on Australian soil for the first time since the 1947-48 series. In the absence of the injured Zaheer, left-armer Irfan Pathan measured up well too.
The South African experience will help young pacemen Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Umesh Yadav (whoever gets picked to keep Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma company) immensely. It’s an opportunity they should relish, never mind if they get hit around the Wanderers and Kingsmead by an awesome South African batting line-up.
However clichéd, ‘you’ve got to take 20 wickets to win a game’ may sound, it can never be less truthful. Fast bowling is never as easy as scoring runs appears to be at times. Pacemen have to run through a brick wall for success.
Handling his pace attack well will be a huge challenge for Dhoni in South Africa. He won’t have a problem in getting his soldiers to give him more. He would have also realised by now that handling fast bowlers calls for special captaincy skills. The best of toilers will endure periods when they don’t feel up to it.
Dennis Lillee, the great Australian felt like that against Garry Sobers’ Rest of the World side at Perth in 1971. He went to his captain Ian Chappell after four overs and asked for a rest. Chappell asked him for at least one more over. He obliged his captain and went on to claim eight wickets for 29 runs. All this in a total of just 7.1 overs.
Looking forward to getting a longish break in the dressing room, Lillee soon discovered that Chappell had enforced the follow-on so he was out there again and claimed four more wickets. Smart persuasion from Dhoni could help.
The Johannesburg Test is a historic one for India considering they went into a Test for the first time in 24 years without the Sachin Tendulkar factor in Indian cricket. The best tribute this team can pay Tendulkar is by emulating his work ethic and making it count abroad.
After the Test series in South Africa, there will be a tour of New Zealand before a massive five-Test jamboree in England, two countries that provide fast bowlers a wholesome field to thrive on. Indeed, the 2013-14 is the season to reap and rejoice.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor