Can Ind-SA series live-up to the potential of a ‘Battle Royal’?

By Biswajit Jha | Updated: Feb 01, 2010, 12:01 PM IST

India ended 2009 spectacularly, touching the zenith with the numero uno status in Test cricket after they thumped the touring Sri Lankan side 2-0. Excited by the new found status of number one Test side in the world, the cricket fraternity shockingly found that newly crowned champs would play only two Tests in entire calendar year of 2010. That too against Bangladesh! This would surely make it difficult for them to hold on to the present glory.<br/><br/>Pushed to the walls by media and former Test cricketers, the myopic cricket administrators in India, sensing the growing popularity of Test cricket, in a face saving exercise, hurriedly approached the South African board to play two Tests and three ODIs instead of only five ODIs during their tour of India.<br/> <br/>South Africa, currently the number two Test side, agreed to the suggestion by the Indian board. The move set-up a ‘Battle Royal’, or you can say the unofficial ‘Test Championship’ between the two top ranked sides.<br/><br/>Though several people are calling it an unofficial battle for Test supremacy, all are not well with the two top teams of the world cricket, currently struggling in various fronts. <br/><br/>South Africa, like India, have not had played enough Test cricket in recent times. Before their home series against England, they played a three-match Test series against Australia back in March-April 2009.<br/> <br/>After beating a struggling Australian side in their own den in the beginning of 2009, they created a furor and many found them as an ideal replacement for the Champion Aussie outfit, who were busy rebuilding the team in the aftermath of a series of retirements by their established stars. <br/> <br/>However, the bubble bust in a fraction of a second once the new look Australian side visited South Africa a month later. Fresh from their humiliating defeat, the Australian rookies gave them a run for their money and beat them 2-1 in intensely fought-out battles. <br/> <br/>They got a fine opportunity to realize their ambition of attaining the top spot in Tests when the England team, fresh from their Ashes winning spree, toured their country. The Proteas failed to win the four-Test series and drew the rubber by winning the last Test at Johannesburg, that too after they were beaten convincingly by the resurgent England side at Durban in the 2nd Test.<br/> <br/>Apart from a weak middle-order, South Africans also lack firepower in their pace attack. A country, which produced several great fast bowlers like Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock since the end of apartheid era in early nineties, is finding it tough to even replace the ageing Makhaya Ntini.<br/><br/>Though they have good quality fast bowlers in Dale Stayne and Morne Morkel, they are not so consistent and break down with injuries quite often. <br/> <br/>South Africa is not a country which likes to bank upon their spinners and this has always been a weak-link in their armour. The overall thrust was always on the faster bowlers. The upshot of the predicament is that they could not produce a single quality spinner after two decades of their return to international cricket. Paul Harris and Johan Botha are good but not good enough to rankle the Indian batters. <br/><br/>To add to their woes, their batting is not in good shape at all! They are too dependent on captain Graeme Smith to give them a solid start. Their middle order always looks vulnerable in crunch situations. Their remaining order, apart from stumper and old war-horse Mark Boucher, has failed to provide the much-needed resistance against tougher oppositions.<br/><br/>India, on the other hand, despite having outwitted Sri Lanka and Bangladesh of late, are not worry- free either. Though Indian batting looks solid in the subcontinent, the chief cause of concerns are their bowling and fielding, which are shabby to say the least.<br/><br/>Despite being repeatedly pointed out by critics, India’s bowling and fielding remain a major stumbling block in their effort to maintain their Test supremacy. Zaheer Khan is the only world class bowler if we go by the present forms or statistics of all the bowlers. <br/><br/>Ishant has been a disappointment ever since he left the shore of Australia after that eventful series in 2008. Harbhajan Singh too, has lost the art that once gave him wickets in a basket. Not much to write about India’s back-up pacemen and spinners. <br/><br/>The batting order, which is the only saving grace, has also lost its sheen due to the absence of ‘Mr Dependable’ Rahul Dravid and swashbuckling Yuvraj Singh.<br/><br/>Despite the problems faced by both the teams, with a resurgent Australia fast catching up them, the series will no doubt decide the ultimate Champions of Test cricket…as of now.