Johannesburg: South African pacer Morne Morkel on Monday fired the first salvo ahead of the two-match Test series, starting here December 18, stating that the young Indian batsmen will miss `Sachin Tendulkar`s patience` in the middle and they should be prepared to face some hostile bowling from the home side.
Morkel said it would be interesting to see how the young Indian batsmen cope with the South African pace battery now that the likes of Tendulkar are not in the visiting team.
"Sachin was a batsman who could bat for a long time. And he put the bowlers and the opposition under pressure by batting for a long time. He was the rock for their batting. He could bat with the top-order and the middle order both," said Morkel two days ahead of the first Test.
"These young Indian batsmen are quality players, but we can clearly see from the ODI series that they are attacking batsmen who like to come at the bowling. It will be interesting to see how they go about this," he added.
Tendulkar retired from all forms of cricket after playing his 200th Test against the West Indies in Mumbai last month. His departure left a huge void in the Indian team and that will be most visible when the Test series begins.
"Like I said, they are all very quality guys. Rohit Sharma has been scoring runs off late and Cheteshwar Pujara can bat for time at number three. Even R Aswhin averages 40 at the back-end of their line-up. So we need to make use of the early morning conditions with the new ball. We need to be on the money from Wednesday itself, otherwise they can score quickly and at Wanderers, sometimes it can be a high scoring game," he said.
Asked specifically if he left out Virat Kohli`s name on purpose and that South Africa might not consider him a threat, Morkel was non-committal at best.
"Virat has done well in Australia and scored some runs when India toured there last. He is a quality player. But he is obviously going to slot into Sachin's role and he has got some big boots to fill. He can do it very well, don't take me wrong, but it is going to be a testing time for him at number four," Morkel said.
Though the Indian team management has made no official statements about who will bat at number four, Kohli has batted with Pujara in pairs at the open nets sessions on Friday and yesterday at Benoni. It could be an indicator, or not.
Even so, it will probably be a trial by fire given how the Wanderers' pitches behave. In the first ODI, India were rattled by pace and bounce, losing the match by 141 runs. Things did change for the bowlers in the second ODI in Durban, where the bowlers restricted the opposition to 281 runs. Yet, the Indian batsmen failed to chase it down, losing by 136 runs eventually.
Adapting to the conditions will be the key, considering that the Indians have had almost negligible practice in the build-up to this Test series. The batsmen, in particular, have suffered the most, as their last outing was in Durban. They have not batted in a competitive setting since, for the second innings in the third ODI at Centurion was washed out before the abandonment of the practice game in Benoni due to a wet outfield.
"When I heard the news that they did not have even a ball at Benoni, I felt it will definitely be something in our favour," said Morkel.
"Because the pitch at Benoni can also be a bit tricky at times. I think that could have been good practice for them. So it is definitely some sort of bonus for us that they were stuck to indoor nets or open net-practice. Out there in the middle, it's a completely different ball game."
Morkel, however, felt his side should not be carried away by the listless show by the Indians so far in the South African tour. "The nature of the Wanderers' pitch is that is has always been bouncy and quick. It can be a high scoring game, if the batsmen get in. So the margins for bowlers are definitely a bit smaller here, because of the ball coming onto the wicket and the outfield here. "It is going to be crucial how we use the pace and bounce. But we need not to get too carried away. The Indian bowlers struggled to find the right lengths in the first ODI and it takes some time to adapt to the conditions here. So we need to be smart about using the conditions as well," he added.
Despite the struggles in that first match of the tour here, the Indian team can gain heart from the fact that they did beat South Africa here in a Test match way back in 2006. Back then, under Rahul Dravid, S Sreesanth had taken eight wickets in two innings and Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman had scored half-centuries to script a first-ever Indian Test victory in this country.
"2006 was a long time ago. We can only think about the current scenario and for South Africa, it is about getting a good start. We were a bit slow against Pakistan and that cost us a bit. For India, a lot has changed. They have no Rahul Dravid, no Tendulkar, no batsmen who can really build an innings. So it's a completely different ball game," Morkel said.