NEW DELHI: Looking forward to the India-South Africa Test series, former Indian opener Gautam Gambhir recalled the encounters between the two cricketing nations in the 1990s when the duel between Sachin Tendulkar and Allan Donald used to be the highlight of the matches.
In his column for the Times of India, Gambhir wrote, “My earliest memories of India-South Africa encounters go back to the times when Hansie Cronje was a tough, inspirational figure playing this game to save his life. It was of Allan Donald trying to strike fear of death in minds of batsmen all around the world. Donald’s duels with Sachin Tendulkar in the 1990s could have marketed the game of cricket even in Antarctica. It was of Jonty Rhodes performing gravity-defying actions to save that solitary run. Cricket was different then. So was the world around it.”
Gambhir rued the fact that South Africa has ceased to produce superstars of the statures of Cronje, Donald and Rhodes.
“These days, the late Cronje is part of anti-corruption conversations. Donald is an affable former cricketer who was earlier this month appointed as a Consultant for Free State Cricket Union for all their teams. Meanwhile, Rhodes comes to India for surfing, an odd promotional event, all this adding to his profile of a former support staff of Mumbai Indians. He remains that colorful past which has no parallel in present times. A few former South African cricketers have often remarked in private conversations how their cricketing administration has lacked the vision to produce a consistent supply of world-class talent. Their grievance is that while there is an odd Dale Steyn or Kagiso Rabada, AB DeVilliers or De Kock, there is no plan to have them coming through regularly,” Gambhir added.
Gambhir picked India as the favourites but marked Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi as the pacers to watch out for.
“Therefore, India start clear favourites going into the Test series starting Wednesday. South Africa’s bowling line up is well served with Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi. Between these three, they tick the boxes of pace, swing, seam and reverse swing. If India can get past these fast men, they will be in a good space and can even dominate this series. It will be reckless batting or extraordinary bowling if Virat’s team is troubled by anyone else in this current South African bowling line-up,” Gambhir opined.
Gambhir backed Rohit Sharma as opener even though he was dismissed for a duck in South Africa’s sole warm-up game. Rohit will have another chance to resurrect his stop-start Test career, but this time as an opener. Rohit bats in the middle order in the longest format but has never really flourished as a Test batsman.
“It is a fantastic opportunity for Rohit Sharma to announce himself as a Test opening batsman. I am not looking too deep into his two-ball duck in the practice game. Besides, it will be disastrous to shuffle around Rohit if he doesn’t succeed in this series. We should remember that he is a makeshift opening batsman. His success as an opening batsman in white-ball cricket can’t guarantee equally good returns in Test matches. Trust me, Rohit will have nerves but the Indian team’s dressing room will have to ensure that these nerves don’t get converted into self-doubt. I can tell you from experience that it is a terrible space to be in,” Gambhir wrote.
The onus will be on India’s slow bowlers to deliver the goods on spin-friendly tracks for the hosts with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and his left-arm colleague Ravindra Jadeja expected to inflict maximum damage on the South Africa batsmen. Ashwin and Jadeja took 54 wickets between themselves in India’s 3-0 win in the four-Test series the last time the Proteas toured the country.
“In the bowling department, I would like to see India go in with Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja and proven performer R Ashwin. It will be interesting to see how Ashwin performs. To me, he is a class act and someone needs to tell him his exact role besides giving him a roadmap for his career. From the opposition, I am also looking forward to seeing Aiden Markram bat. He is a gorgeous looking opening batsman, a perfect competition to Rohit,” Gambhir concluded.