It is more than likely that the second Test commencing at Ahmedabad on the morrow presents the only realistic chance for both India and South Africa to force a result. The final Test is at Kanpur where a result is more an exception than a rule considering the flat and docile nature of the pitch, much like the one the drawn first Test was played on Chennai last week.
From India’s point of view, the team management would be looking more at some of its players than the pitch itself in view of injury-related issues. Skipper Kumble himself is a doubtful start unless he passes a fitness Test on the morning of the game. Tendulkar will miss the Test while Ishant Sharma is still to recover fully from toe and finger injuries. The other seamer, Rudra Pratap Singh has just come off a hamstring injury and looked rather pedestrian in Chennai.
Thus, much of India’s concern centers around their bowling options and combination that in turn will hinge on the kind of pitch on offer. Curator Dhiraj Parsana has observed that the pitch would help the seamers initially before breaking up to aid the spinners. Much the same was said of the Chepauk pitch only to see nearly 1,500 runs being scored for the loss of 25 wickets.
Despite Tendulkar’s absence due to aggravation of groin injury, Indian batting appears fairly solid with Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly at the top followed by Dhoni. It remains to be seen whether India would opt for five bowlers (two quicks and three spinners) in which case, Yuvraj is likely to sit out yet again.
The temptation is to go in with three spinners in Kumble, Harbhajan and leggie Piyush Chawla who has played only one Test so far with Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth sharing the new ball. It is more than likely that RP would be dropped, but then, if Kumble is ruled out, then he could yet get to play unless of course, India opt for an additional batsman in Yuvraj.
Whatever the permutations and combination, the fact is that the scenario is rather unclear in the bowling department. On his part, Kumble is only too aware of the fact that his absence would severely deplete the bowling resources while putting additional burden on Harbhajan, who, frankly, looks far from his best at the moment, despite the eight-wicket haul in Chennai.
In contrast, the South Africans are clearly thirsting for a victory and one feels that they do have the bowling attack to pick up 20 wickets even granting that it is distinctly pace-oriented. Skipper Smith has already promised some short-pitched stuff to be served at the highflying Sehwag and has also indicated that South Africa would prefer to retain the Chennai eleven.
Some years ago, Javagal Srinath underlined the fact that the quicks can generate pace and bounce on the Motera pitch. Considering the South African pace battery of Steyn, Morkel and Ntini, backed by Kallis, one feels that the optimism in the Proteas camp is anything but misplaced. Further, Amla and McKenzie looked at home and would be keen on building on the good start they had in Chennai.
For sure, the Indian batsmen will not be having it as easy as the South Africans learnt the hard way in Chennai that on the sub-continental pitches, there is little margin for error. If the Motera pitch lives up to its promise and expectations, then rest assured that the Indian batsmen would be grilled.
Of course, all this is in theory as one will have to account for the crackling form Sehwag is in and India would be yet again be looking up to him to provide the early momentum along with runs. Jaffer and Dravid too have worked themselves back into top gear as a home series has come in handy for the two who were not see at their best in Australia earlier this year. For sure, the series is heaven sent for Indian batsmen, not just the two, to get some runs under their belts.
All things considered, it is to be hoped then that the Ahmedabad Test would dish out a more equal battle between bat and ball rather than just boundaries and sixes.