South Africa is the real litmus test

2005 Nov 18 by DreamCricket

The outcome of the SA-India series could have long-term implications for Indian cricket. It should make for a gripping battle.

The trouncing at the hands of South Africa in the opening ODI at Hyderabad on Tuesday must have come as a rude wake-up call to the Indian team.

Captain Rahul Dravid may have felt comforted by the fact that the match almost went down to the last over. But such apparent close finishes can often be misleading in ODIs. Certainly in this game the South Africans were on top from the very beginning and even Yuvraj Singh's masterly century did little to faze them.

The visitors are without leading batsman Herschelle Gibbs and left-arm spinner Nicky Boje who have refused to tour India since their role in match fixing was uncovered by the Delhi Police in 2000. They are in effect fugitives from the law. But that is another story.

The South Africans are now on the verge of equaling Australia's world record of remaining unbeaten in 21 consecutive ODIs, though this includes a tie and two "no-results". They will be hungry to take a 2-0 lead in Saturday's match in Bangalore.

There is no need for the Indian camp to press the panic button. But they will have realized after the Hyderabad defeat that they are up against a formidable outfit.

Fresh from their 6-1 rout of Sri Lanka, the Indians would have been buzzing with confidence. But unlike the Lankans, South Africa have proved there are equally formidable abroad as they are on their own turf.

With their pace bowling attack firing on all cylinders and a formidable batting line-up led by skipper Graeme Pollock and the hugely talented Jacques Kallis, they have crushed England, Zimbabwe, West Indies and New Zealand as part of their winning streak that has extended from late last year.

It has been quite a reversal considering they were trounced 5-1 by New Zealand just 18 months back and then routed 5-0 by Sri Lanka following which they had sunk to eighth in the ICC ODI table.

Currently they are second only to world champs Australia who have consistently got the better of them.

It took the South Africans almost a full year to recover from the ignominy of their shock early exit on their own soil in the 2003 World Cup. The sacking of captain Shaun Pollock and the appointment of the young Graeme Smith as his replacement was the first step in the rebuilding process following that setback.

Dravid in particular will be feeling the heat as his appointment as captain extends only till the end of this current series. Whether he retains the captaincy or not will be known at the end of the month when the selectors name the team for the Test series against Sri Lanka who return in December for three Test matches.

Board president RS Mahendra has been sending out signals that Sourav Ganguly may be back for the Test series.

There has been speculation for some time now that India may finally use the system of different captains for the two versions of the game. The final result in this current ODI series could thus have long-term implications for Indian cricket. It should make for a gripping battle.