The top-of-the-table clash between the two best Test teams in the world gets under way at Centurion in South Africa on Thursday. As always there are a few key players could make or mar the series for their respective teams. Here’s a look at these stars and what the series holds in store for them-
Sachin Tendulkar – Most cricket lists are bound to begin with the little champion himself. He is due for his 50th Test century, no less, and when one considers that Don Bradman had 29 and Gary Sobers 26, one gets the picture correctly. It is true that players like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis are ahead of the former greats too, but then Tendulkar is way above all of them. Nothing would please the great little man more than to achieve the land mark in challenging batting- conditions.
Jacques Kallis – With over 11,000 runs under his belt and 37 tons for his country, Kallis remains a prolific batsman who would revel in home conditions againstthe Indian attack. If he is able to record a couple of centuries in the series, the hosts would most certainly gain the upper hand and the Indians would be on the back foot. Skipper MS Dhoni had better find ways to see the back of Kallis quickly each time he walks out to bat, else he will dig in deep.
Virender Sehwag – The scintillating Indian opener would do well to let the South African pacemen have the upper hand at times during his encounters with them, so that he can attack when the going is good. But then Sehwag does not plan that way and he plays astonishing shots off the most venomous of deliveries. His ability to put up some big scores on the board quickly would be crucial to the outcome of the series. At the moment, he would be the player that the opponents fear the most.
Hashim Amla- Along with AB de Villiers, he is sure to be the most attractive of the South African batsmen on view. Having had a magnificent run spree recently in both Tests and ODIs, Amla could well pile on the agony on the Indians if he settles in as he did when on tour to India last year. His back foot play in particular would be a force to reckon with and the Indians would do well to pitch the ball up to him.
Zaheer Khan – The magnificent left arm bowling of Zaheer Khan would be India’s strength on the bouncy tracks. Zaheer has the ability to make the ball ‘talk’ on the most benign of wickets and should relish bowling on more helpful tracks. The South Africans have great respect for him and it would be a real tragedy for India if he has to pull out due to the injury that has been plaguing his career recently.
Harbhajan Singh – The wily off spinner has come into his own as India’s number one trundle after Anil Kumble retired. His recent performances with the bat against the hapless Kiwis have added to the value that he brings to team India. However, it would be his ability to pitch in with key wickets that would be of most benefit to India in this series. His record away from home is not the best and he would be looking forward to rectifying that this time.
Dhoni and Smith- The two opposing captains would be keenly watched by experts around the world. Both came upon the captaincy at a young age and have shone magnificently. Dhoni would be keen to ensure that he scores some big runs apart from keeping wickets efficiently while Smith would try and avoid Zaheer Khan as much as possible, for he doesn’t like the lefties too much.
Dale Steyn – The number 1 bowler in the world has proved to be a threat for India in the past and his partnership with Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe would be crucial for the South Africans. If Steyn can get the ball to rear up from a good length, most Indian batsmen would struggle against him.
All in all a mouth-watering clash is in the offing. In fact, the Ashes might have to take a back seat once the India- South Africa contest gets under way, for the level of cricket might just be much higher! Test cricket does not get much better than this.