sreesanth

The Heart Of The Fix

So, there we go. With the arrest of three cricketers belonging to the Rajasthan Royals team in the IPL, for the crime of spot-fixing, widespread and long time speculations of corruption in the cash rich league have been confirmed. S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – all bowlers – were allegedly promised money ranging from US$ 36,000 to 109, 000 for conceding a specific number of runs in a particular over in three separate games. These cricketers have been charged with fraud, cheating and criminal conspiracy – a shameful list of wrongdoings which is the antithesis of sports. If proven guilty, these players are staring at the end of their careers, a considerable amount of time in prison and a lifetime of regret and guilt.

The first thought that came to my mind when I heard of the news was, “How can these guys be so stupid?”. In the last few years, spot-fixing has been firmly thrust in the spotlight; Amir and Asif during a Lord’s Test, Kaneria and Westfield in county cricket, uncapped IPL players attempting it in the Indian domestic circuit. All these players got caught and were handed appropriate punishments. The ICC and the respective national boards have revamped their anti-corruption units in recent times, while there has been an increase in efforts to better educate the players as to what to do when they are approached by bookies and which authorities to contact when it happens. Spot-fixing has been pretty much publicized and recognized as a new scourge of cricket all over the world, and yet three well paid cricketers, one a Test player, have likely sacrificed promising careers in the pursuit of “just a little more $”.

Sure, there will be a bunch of detractors gunning for the tournament. Any league which throws around the amount of cash it does will always be a ripe target for bookies. Added to it, is the lopsided difference in salaries between team-mates at a particular franchise; a seasoned player getting much less than a supposed T20 specialist is as susceptible to approaches by undesirable elements as an uncapped rookie who earns barely a fraction of the highest paid players in his team. These and other points by IPL detractors are pertinent and not to be ignored. At the same time, these should not distract from the core issue – the susceptibility of these players who fall prey to greed.

Spot fixing or match fixing is not just confined to the IPL; in fact, it is not even confined to the game of cricket. It permeates just about every major sports in the world to varying degrees. One can’t wash his hands off watching sports altogether, just for that. The problem is not a specific format or a tournament; the problem is the man who is willing to compromise his morals, ethics and integrity to satisfy his greed and in the process, deceives his team-mates, fans, coaches, family and himself.  And its not a problem that is going to go away easily.

The game of cricket is lucky to have some extraordinary players who entertain with their talent, inspire with their courage and make us loyal fans with their commitment. In a nutshell, that is the essence of sports. A few bad eggs (a term which is all the rage right now!) should not shake our faith in the game or its players. You can form all the anti-corruption units in the world, educate the players every day about the scourge of fixing, provide better salaries – but there will always be a few for whom greed pervades over all other factors. So, much like the War on Terror, the fight against corruption in sports will have to be an ongoing exercise; there will be setbacks along the way but it must never end. More importantly, never let a select few sully your love of the game.

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Pace is ace

So, after what seems like an eternity, India have put up a full strength side for arguably the most important Test series of the last two years. India won the series last time they toured under Dravid’s captaincy; but this English side under Flower and Strauss are a way more tougher side and are legitimate challengers for the top ranking. So it is pleasing to see that both sides will be playing pretty much their first choice XI, in what promises to be an appetizing series for connoisseurs of good ‘ole Test cricket.

For once, India will not be the only side boasting of a world class middle order in bilateral series involving them. Trott, Pietersen and Bell will be tough to get past with Morgan and Prior providing more headaches lower down the order. Of course, they will have the small matter of dealing with Cook’s ominous Test form.

That is why I feel that this series will be decided by the mini-battle between the Indian seamers and the English batsmen. While the Indian batsmen will be challenged to the extreme by Anderson, Tremlett and Swann, the English batsmen will feel more confident of dealing with the Indian bowlers. Apart from Zaheer Khan, no other bowler is going to give them sleepless nights. So it will be imperative for the support bowlers to raise their game during this tour.

It is safe to assume that India will play 3 seamers and a lone specialist spinner in Harbhajan. It is still safer to assume that Harbhajan the bowler is not going to be much of a factor considering the fact that the English batsmen get to practice against Swann in the nets. So, the burden lies on Zak and co, to get among the wickets. Here is a look at the men who have to make a difference for India to emerge victorious.

Zaheer Khan is India’s lone world class pace bowler. One of the major reasons for India’s victory in the last tour to England. He might not be express pace but more than makes up for it with his skill and experience. This time around, he will have to guide his younger colleagues to form a potent attack. His contests with Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott will prove to be some of the most critical moments in the series.

Shantakumaran Sreesanth was a supporting act to Zaheer and RP Singh on the last tour, but this time he will have to step up to share the burden with Zaheer. No one doubts his talent and drive, but it is his temperament that lets him down most of the time. If he can keep himself under check and churn out spells like the ones he produces in South Africa, he will be one helluva weapon for India.

Munaf Patel is an enigma when it comes to Test cricket. In ODIs, he is a parsimonious bowler who manages to prise wickets at crucial junctures while keeping the run rate down. In Tests though, batsmen are more than content to just play him out, nullifying his effectiveness. It is hard to see him getting a game until one of the other pace bowlers get injured or have a drastic dip in form.

When Ishant Sharma bowled THAT spell to Ricky Ponting, it was as if Indian cricket had been blessed with that rare gift: a fast bowler who could hustle the best batsmen in the world. Since then, Sharma has seen both extremes of the success scale, and is currently in a upward swing. He has been the most impressive fast bowler for India in the series against West Indies and will be expected to carry his form to the England series. It will be fitting if he can make a good impression in a country where he got his first call up to the national team.

Praveen Kumar has been a surprise package in the series against West Indies. They said that he is primarily a short format bowler, that he can’t bowl with an old ball; still he has proved to be more than a handful, even in unhelpful conditions. England will seem like heaven, considering that pitches there are tailor-made for bowlers like him. He might not be an automatic pick in the XI, but if given a chance, will prove to be an effective option for India.

So, there it is. For all of India’s traditional strength in spin, it could well turn out to be quality pace bowling which could win them a closely fought series. This is possibly India’s top 5 pace bowlers and if they can’t do the trick, I doubt anyone else can.

 

World Cup injuries update: One man’s boon is another’s bane

 

 

 

 

 

 

With less than 10 days to go, dreams have already been crushed for a few players, while for others who were initially passed over, the chance to shine on the biggest stage of all, beckons.

Out go Michael Hussey, Nathan Hauritz, Praveen Kumar and Eoin Morgan – all ruled out due to different injuries; by no means, this list is complete. Expect few others (mostly from England) to join this list in the coming days.

In come Callum Ferguson, Jason Krejza, Sreesanth and Ravi Bopara – who all (with the exception of Krejza) had reasons to be aggrieved due to their exclusions from the original squads.

Hussey’s absence is a huge blow for a struggling Australian batting line-up. They might have won the recent ODI series at home comfortably, but in the subcontinent, against fresher sides they will need someone of Hussey’s experience and caliber to pull them through the inevitable collapses that are bound to happen. Callum Ferguson has an impressive record in ODIs, but he has huge shoes to fill.

The loss of Hauritz is another blow. While he was fit during the Ashes, the selectors were blind to him; but when they pick him for the World Cup, he comes down with an injury. He is possibly the only threatening spinner in Australia and Krejza will not have the same impact as Hauritz, despite his heroics in India on Test debut.

I am not too sure about how much Praveen Kumar’s absence will be felt. Despite being an important part of the bowling attack for a while, of late he has dropped off in form (possibly related to his fitness issues). So, it might be a blessing in disguise for India to get a fitter, more fiery Sreesanth instead.

On the other hand, England’s chances just took a hit after Morgan’s exclusion. He was the major reason for England’s improved ODI performances and his ice cool temperament with innovative strokes will be missed. Bopara is in good form, and it remains to be seen whether he can replicate that in the World Cup. To make matters worse, there are still a few others in the squad, over whom injury concerns still remain. Even if one or two of them can’t make it, England can kiss their chances good-bye.

 

Lessons from the Castle Lager Test series in South Africa

  • Gautam Gambhir: Everyone knew Gambhir has been a brilliant opener for India at home and abroad against weaker teams; but the question was how he would fare in Tests against tougher opponents in countries like England, Australia and South Africa. He took a big step towards answering that by performing creditably in the two games he played. He faced the might of Steyn and Morkel at their furious best, and survived to ensure that India would walk away with a share of the series spoils. Dravid might be out of the team soon, but in Gambhir, India has a batsman who can battle through the tough times to see them through.
  • Virender Sehwag: Possibly, the biggest disappointment of the series. There was big anticipation for the clash between him and Steyn, but there was no contest really. In conditions favorable to the bowlers and against a pumped up pace attack, Sehwag could only manage 144 runs in the series at an average of 24 and a shockingly low SR of 70.24! He will be keen to put this series behind him and come out, all guns blazing in the World Cup at home.
  • Rahul Dravid: In an earlier time, Dravid against this attack and in these conditions would have seen a couple of marathon knocks atleast. Instead, all we got was the sad sight of seeing him struggle to get 120 runs at a SR of 33 and a highest score of 43. He played his part in saving India on the last day of the series, but there is no doubt, that the end is near for a wonderful career.

  • Sachin Tendulkar: In a series featuring the two top teams in the world, it was appropriate that there was a shoot-out for the best batsman in the world today, as well. Tendulkar might not have scored the amount of runs that Kallis did, but his performance was equally awe inspiring. In the first Test, he instilled self belief in the rest of the batsmen over the course of scoring a 50th Test ton, and at Newlands he faced one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling one will ever see, and came out with an innings which made sure that India were on level terms with South Africa. After 21 years in International cricket, there is no end to his gluttonous appetite for runs.
  • VVS Laxman: In a year featuring many classics from this man, the 96 he scored in the second innings of the 2nd Test was perhaps the most important of them all. In the company of the tail, he rescued his team from a precarious situation and gave them a total to defend. In the process, he helped them secure one of their most memorable wins in Test cricket. Its time, India and the rest of the world treasure his batting skills for as long as he is around.
  • Cheteshwar Pujara: It was always expecting too much from Pujara, to face the likes of Steyn and Morkel in their own backyard and come up trumps. Still, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. In the second innings at Durban, he played the most important innings of his brief career so far and weathered the bowlers for close to one and a half hours while giving Laxman valuable support. He would have learnt a lot from this tour and still remains an exciting prospect for the future.
  • MS Dhoni: He came within one wicket of securing his most famous series win yet, but Dhoni will take the eventual scoreline. After all, he has yet to lose a test series as captain. As a captain, his tactics were criticized and his handling of Sreesanth was also open to debate; but as a batsman, he did a decent job and as a keeper, he was safe without being spectacular. This series might have got away, but he can look forward to England and Australia with confidence.
  • Harbhajan Singh: It has been quite a while since he topped the bowling charts for India, and Harbhajan will be satisfied with his performance after receiving a lot of stick from fans and media alike, prior to the series. At Durban, he hastened South Africa’s demise in the first innings; and at Cape Town, he gave India its best shot at a series win. In the end it was not to be, but for once he starred with the ball, rather than with the bat.
  • Zaheer Khan: He was sorely missed at Centurion, and on return at Durban he made his presence felt. He might not have the speed of Steyn or bounce of Morkel, but he has plenty of guile and variations to make up for it. Once again, he had the wood over Graeme Smith so much that Smith asked his opening partner to take first strike against him. He faded ever so slightly on the 4th day at Cape Town, which allowed Kallis and co to take command; but overall, he led the attack very well, and will be a vital weapon for India in 2011.
  • I Sharma: While Zaheer and Sreesanth featured in the news throughout the series, Ishant had a relatively quiet series. A horror match at Centurion was followed by a modest one at Durban and he finished the series with another quiet performance at Cape Town. These were conditions tailor-made for him, but he was thwarted by some good batting and his own indiscipline. Still has problems with no-balls, and I have no idea why Eric Simons has still not found a remedy for that.

  • S Sreesanth: There’s something about South Africa that brings out the best and worst in Sreesanth. One moment, he is bowling vicious snorters to get rid of one of the best batsmen in the world; and the next, he is in trouble with the opposing captain, his own captain, the match refree and the crowd – all for his behavior. He is supposed to be an experienced bowler for India by now, but he is more of an enfant terrible at the moment. He has the talent, but can he maintain his focus in 2011?
  • Raina, Vijay and Unadkat: None of them grabbed the opportunities that came their way, and they have only themselves to blame for that.
  • Graeme Smith: A poor series with the bat, where he could not kick on to make big scores; was more in the news for his poor track record against Zaheer and clash with Sreesanth. Before the series, he made comments alluding that India cannot be considered top dog if they can’t win in South Africa. Forget India, he will do well to remember that South Africa has not won in South Africa for the last three series. By his standards, that’s not the stuff of champions either.
  • Alviro Petersen and Ashwell Prince: Apart from a good innings here and there, did not do much to put their detractors at bay.
  • Hashim Amla: The bearded one had a modest series by his standards. He resumed his love affair with the Indian bowling at Centurion by scoring a century, had a quiet match at Durban, and scored a rapid fire 50 at Newlands before succumbing to a self described ‘sugar rush’. Still, he was the third highest run getter in the series, and he looks in the best of touch. Yousuf might be fading away, but another bearded batting master is taking his place.

  • Jacques Kallis: In a long and distinguished career, Kallis has played some important knocks against top quality bowlers in demanding conditions; but I doubt that any of his previous innings would have given him as much satisfaction as the one he played on the 4th day at Newlands. South Africa was in trouble at 130/6, when he played a vital innings which was as painful (due to injury) as it was gutsy. This was following the century he had scored in the 1st innings to get South Africa to a challenging score. Fair to say, if it wasn’t for him, India would be toasting a historic victory now. If it wasn’t for an unfortunate run-out and a ripper of a delivery, there is no saying what the eventual result could have been. Along with Tendulkar, he proved that age doesn’t matter when you are in a purple patch for as long as anyone can remember, and ignited a debate as to who the better batsman is. Ponting can only look over, with envy. Oh, did I mention that he scored his first ever double century at Centurion?
  • AB De Villiers: Like Amla, he started brilliantly at Centurion with a bruising ton which deflated the Indians, but couldn’t sustain the form for the rest of the series. He was a surprise disappointment of the series.
  • Mark Boucher: If it wasn’t for his fighting half century in the 2nd innings at Cape Town, this could have been his last Test for South Africa. Instead, along with his long time friend and accomplice, he took the game away from India in true gritty manner. If it does prove to be his final innings, he would have signed off in typical style.
  • Paul Harris and L Tsotsobe: While Harris was ineffectual as expected, Tsotsobe was the surprise package. While they were on the look for respite from Steyn and Morkel, Tsotsobe rarely released the pressure, and only uncharacteristic dropped catches prevented him from getting more wickets. He held a phenomenal catch at Centurion to boot.
  • M Morkel: Along with Steyn, great things were expected of him before the series. While Steyn stole the headlines, Morkel did his part. After routing the Indians in the first innings at Centurion, he handed over the honors to Steyn for the rest of the series. He continued to bruise the Indians with his awkward bounce and ended up as the 2nd leading wicket taker in the series. If this was supposed to be a contest between the world’s best batsmen and the world’s best pace attack, there is no doubt who was the winner.

  • D Steyn: While two batting legends set about enhancing their reputations and breaking new ground, there was only one bowling legend in this series. If anyone had any doubts as to the greatness of Steyn, they should watch his bowling in the 3rd Test at Cape Town. Speed, swing, accuracy…he had it all. He had some of the world’s best batsmen at his mercy, and it was only his presence which forbade the Indians to entertain any hopes of chasing down 340 to win. He ended the series as the leading wicket taker with 21 wickets and an average of just above 17. He single handedly nullified the Sehwag threat, and along with Morkel established themselves as the top bowling pair in cricket, without a doubt. Now, only if he could replicate this form in the shorter formats…

Overall, for the third successive time a contest between these two sides has ended in a fair stalemate. It may not compare to the Ashes in terms of history and prestige, but for the pure joy of watching top quality, competitive cricket, this is one clash always worth looking forward to.

Best moment of the series:

Quote of the series:

We’ll need two goats to feed on this grassy pitch.

Harbhajan Singh, that delightful pitch expert, comes up with a novel idea to make the Kingsmead track more batsman-friendly

For my review of the Ashes, click here

India vs South Africa – Clash of the Titans

Finally, the much awaited non-Ashes test series of the year, is upon us. The No. 1 side takes on the No. 2 side, in a 3 test series, which will confirm if India has finally learned to crack the code in hostile environs. They are led by the capable MS Dhoni, under whom they have not lost a test series in two years, and are packed with world class batsmen and competitive bowlers. Their ground fielding is way behind some of the other teams, but importantly, they don’t drop too many catches. One of the biggest advantages they have going into the series, is the presence of Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons. Their local experience coupled with the extensive preparation they have put in, in the lead-up to the series, could prove to be the tipping point for India. Add to this, the fact that, this is the best Indian team to tour South Africa, ever. If they cannot win the series this time, they might as well forget winning here again for a while, considering that their big three (Sachin, Dravid, Laxman) would be playing in their last tour here.

As for South Africa, they will be having the odds on their side, given their balance and knowledge of the conditions. Any team, which has Steyn and Morkel marking their run-ups at the start of the opposition’s innings, will consider themselves favorites on fast, bouncy pitches. Their spin option is not threatening, but on these grounds, against Indian batsmen, they wouldn’t matter anyway. They have a powerful batting line-up, which can rival India, in terms of racking up big scores. Smith, Amla, Kallis and De Villiers are in no way inferior to Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman. One area, where they are miles ahead of India, is their fielding; and in a tight contest, it could tilt the series in their favor.

Without further ado, here is player-by-player look:

INDIA (best XI)

Gautam Gambhir: Its been a long time, since India have toured South Africa, with a stable opening combination; This time around, they have, perhaps the best Indian openers since Gavaskar. It might be Gambhir’s first test tour of South Africa; but he is a driven cricketer, who has just returned to form, and his partnership with Sehwag will be an interesting plot-line in this series.

Virender Sehwag: He burst into the test scene, with a dazzling debut ton at Bloemfontein in 2001, against the likes of Pollock, Hayward and Ntini. Since then, his average in South Africa is a measly 26.44, compared to an ‘away’ average of 50.67. Needless to say, he will be bursting to set some records straight. He forms one half of the world’s most feared opening partnership, but his wicket will be the most cherished in a class line-up. Recently, he has combined an important trait to his run-away stroke-play: patience. His contest with Steyn and Morkel will be a treat to savor.

Rahul Dravid: He might be not be the same batsman he was four years ago; but, when India tour abroad, there is no better player to turn to. Like other batsmen in the illustrious line-up, his record in South Africa is a glaring inconsistency with the remainder of his ‘away’ stats. He struck a semblance of form in the recent series against New Zealand, but no doubt, Steyn and co, will try to re-inject some old misgivings. All said and done, this is his last opportunity to play a defining role in what could turn out to be India’s finest series win in years.

Sachin Tendulkar: He is playing so well this year, that, when he failed to register a century in the series against the Kiwis, it was a shock to all. He is one ton away, from a record setting 50 centuries in tests, but his mind will be on bigger things. He leads one of the strongest batting line-ups in recent memory and he will know that there is no better chance to beat South Africa in their own den. He averages a respectable 39.76 in SA from 12 matches, with an unforgettable 169 as his highest score. If he can improve on these stats, expect India to be dominant in the batting stakes, Steyn or no Steyn.

VVS Laxman: He has been needed a lot in the last few series, and he has not disappointed. One of the most under-rated batsmen of his generation, he will relish the challenge SA will throw at him. Even if India experience some top order blues, they know that they can rely on Laxman to bail them out. The biggest task for South Africa will be to ensure that he does not mistake them for Australia.

Suresh Raina: Possibly the only weak link in the batting, it is a no-brainer that the Saffers will target him with plenty of bouncers. After a dream start to his test career, his form has tapered off, and SA will consider him ripe for the picking; but there is no doubt, that he is the most talented of the young bunch. Kirsten has worked with him a lot on his batting, and it remains to be seen, if he has learnt his lessons. For inspiration, he needs not look further than fellow southpaw, Alastair Cook, who is changing notions about his batting, in Australia.

MS Dhoni: Captain Extraordinaire. He has a brilliant opportunity to go into the record books, as the first Indian skipper to lead his team to a victory in South Africa. While his keeping has always been steady, his batting form is iffy. He did score an important 98 in his most recent innings, but India will need more of that, to back up Laxman and lead the lower order, if the situation arises. Many critics have pointed out, that Dhoni’s good record is more due to luck, than anything else; but as the man himself said, if his luck is helping India win, then so be it.

Harbhajan Singh: Of late, he has come up with an interesting idea. If he can’t help India with the ball, he will try to win games with his bat. It is all well and endearing, but the focus will be rightly on his bowling. In a land renowned for its spinners, he is the leading tweaker, who hasn’t really managed to penetrate line-ups recently. While talk over his bowling form riles him up, he needs to calm down and realize that India needs him to be at his best against a powerful set of batsmen. Expect the likes of Kallis and De Villiers to target him and disrupt his rhythm. How he responds, will be crucial to Indian hopes of containing any severe damage.

Zaheer Khan: India’s most important bowler is under a fitness cloud right now. It would be an understatement to say, that in his absence, India will find getting 20 SA wickets, that much harder. So, expect the physios to be putting some extra time with him. At the least, India will hope that he can play, so that he can target his favorite bunny’s wrists.

Ishant Sharma: Will be a player worth watching this series. While South Africa has faced him before, it will be a different matter, when they come up against him, on their own pitches. If they prepare bouncy tracks for the benefit of Steyn and Morkel, they better be prepared for some roughing up by Sharma. After months of toiling on subcontinental pitches, he will be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling on lively pitches. If he can maintain control and reduce his no-balls, he will turn out to be a match winner for India.

S Sreesanth: Sreesanth and South Africa will always be remembered for his famous antics after hitting Nel for a six in India’s last tour here. While those might or might not be repeated, India will hope that his bowling in that series will be reprised this time as well. There were some promising signs in the recent series against New Zealand, and if he along with Sharma, can support Zaheer Khan ably, expect South Africa to reconsider their pitch preparations.

SOUTH AFRICA (Best XI)

Graeme Smith: One of the best openers in international cricket, Smith (fitness permitting) will be a tough nut to dislodge once he gets going. Interestingly, he has never scored a century against India in 10 matches, falling to Zaheer and Sreesanth 4 times each. What better chance to set the record straight, than in a contest between the top two teams in international cricket, at home.

Alviro Petersen: After scoring a debut century against India at Eden gardens, Petersen has had a steady career. While there are no immediate concerns, this is an ideal opportunity for him to establish his position in the team. India have been known to be generous to batsmen seeking to make it big on the international stage, and Petersen will be hoping that he will be the beneficiary of India’s largesse.

Hashim Amla: It remains to be seen, how much Amla’s arm injury will affect his form. Just as well – A fully fit and firing Amla will be one of the biggest threats to India’s fortunes. Blessed with the calmness and patience of a monk, he has reeled off several hundreds in the past year. Only time will tell, if he will become a great; but for now, he is doing a damn impressive job and the Saffers will be hoping that he will continue to display the run-scoring appetite he did, in their last series against India.

J Kallis: South Africa’s own Tendulkar. When was the last time this man was out of form, anyway? Along with Amla and De Villiers, he forms one of the most strongest middle orders in the game. His duel with Harbhajan will be worth watching, and expect a lot of words to be exchanged between the two. Add to this, his catching at slips and breakthroughs with the ball – as always, he could prove to be India’s nemesis.

AB De Villiers: The next big superstar of international cricket. Expect him to be breaking a few records this series. He is fresh off a mammoth unbeaten 278 against Pakistan; and at home against the likes of Harbhajan and Sreesanth, he will fancy his chances. If India don’t get him out early, they will be chasing the leather on most days of this tour.

Ashwell Prince: A man whose career mirrors Laxman in more ways than one. Perennially, on the verge of being dropped, it is easy to forget that he is a former skipper of the national team. He tried his hand at opening, to stay in the team, but has rightfully returned to the middle order. He faces competition from Duminy for his spot, and only consistent big scores will make the number 6 slot, his own. Despite having a poor record against India overall, his average shoots up to 61 against India at home. So, he has atleast one thing going for him.

Mark Boucher: His best days might be behind him, but Boucher is the man you need, when you’re in a scrap with the best team. He will relish the challenge of leading the lower order, and his safe keeping will be a source of comfort to the bowlers. Expect his palms to take a lot of pounding, this series.

Paul Harris: While it is easy to rubbish Harris’ performances at the top level, one look at the current state of Australian spin bowling, will show how much worth he is to the SA side. He runs into a line-up, which has demolished better spinners, and his average of almost 50 against them, confirms the non-existence of a threat. He will be expected to perform a containing role, allowing the lines of Steyn and Morkel to run amok.

Dale Steyn: India’s biggest threat to a landmark series win. There is a reason, why there is a lot of talk of Steyn in the lead-up to the series. While his overall bowling average is 23.77 with a SR of 40.4, against India, it drops to 20 and 36.3 respectively. India will not forget his devastating spell at Nagpur in a hurry and their preparations so far, mirror the respect they have for Steyn’s capabilities. His contest with Sehwag will prove to be the biggest of all mini-clashes in this series.

Morne Morkel: If Sehwag and Gambhir form the toughest opening partnership in international cricket, Steyn and Morkel form the most lethal new ball pair going around. While his bowling stats against India are not very impressive, sheer pace and bounce (that old nemesis of Indian batting) will prove to be a handful on home pitches.

L Tsotsobe: He will be the most inexperienced bowler among the two teams, and India will hope they can get some respite from Steyn and Morkel through him. Don’t take him lightly though. With good left arm swing, complementing the fiery pace of the new ball bowlers, he could yet prove to a wild card. Afridi and Pakistan found out the hard way.

All in all, it promises to be a riveting series. At least, it will prove to be more of a contest than the one taking place down under!