Living on a prayer

Written by Boria Majumdar | Updated: Jan 31 2010, 05:32am hrs
Indias most high-profile Test series is in the offing and just when we need to put our best foot forward, we are missing the services of some of our best men who have been the key to us reaching the pole position in Test cricket. The biggest casualty of the Bangladesh series has been Rahul Dravid. More than anyone else, India will miss his services as we embark to safeguard our number one position against Graeme Smith and his men. Against the likes of Dale Styen and Morne Morkel, Dravids solidity at number three was one of our biggest strengths. In fact, seeing Dravid walk out after the fall of the first wicket is routine for Indian cricket fans of our generation. His presence in the middle is a balm, a comforting feeling that we are in safe hands. It is this solidity that India will miss come February 6 in Nagpur.

The other big casualty is Yuvraj Singh. Despite not having made the Test spot his own, the mercurial Yuvraj is a proven campaigner for the big occasion. Having a disastrous run in with injuries of late, chances are his Test career might be cut short by the spate of injuries that he continues to suffer. And, finally, in Sreesanth we have lost one who is always willing to compete and is a perfect foil for Zaheer and Ishant in conditions that offer seam movement.

All of this leads us to question the prudence of organising the Test series against Bangladesh at this point in time. Were we in Bangladesh to improve our Test record Was the series a payback by the BCCI for Bangaldesh, supporting us in all matters at the ICC Was it a philanthropic gesture in giving our neighbours the fillip they so badly need to get their cricket on track

The truth we will never know, but the reality is this series has cost us dear. It has made India a considerably weakened side as we take the field against South Africa. The settled look, so very essential in making us the worlds number one team, is missing and the South Africans will do every bit to exploit the opportunities that have come their way.

However, as cricket fans, we can only hope that adversity brings out the best in Dhoni and his men. They know more than anyone else that this series is of paramount importance in safeguarding their reputation as the worlds best Test team. Also, injuries to some always mean an opportunity to others. After a spectacular domestic season, the likes of S Badrinath will sure fancy their chance in making the grade in Test match cricket, an arena that is still considered sacred by all cricketers from across the world. And if Badrinaths domestic performances are anything to go by, he sure has the potential to make it good at the highest level, provided he can absorb the pressure of this high-profile series.

A couple of predictions are in order with a relatively weakened team, Indias performance will hugely depend on the starts given by the worlds best opening pair, Sehwag and Gambhir. Well begun is half done, they say, and if these two can give us the 60-plus starts, much of the task would have been done. The relatively inexperienced middle order can then breathe easy and consolidate on the start offered to them by the men in form.

A caveat is also in order. In case India squanders an opportunity, as was done in the first innings of the first Test against Bangladesh, the Proteas will surely make it count. They are ruthless performers and will not drop Sachin four times in the course of two Tests, allowing him to score consecutive centuries.

Secondly, we need Harbhajan Singh to fire. Unless he steps up to the occasion, it will prove impossible for Zaheer Khan to dismantle the strong South African batting line-up. Singh is our premier bowler and what best a platform than against the worlds best.All in all, a salivating contest is on the cards. If you are a cricket fan, you ought to either be in Nagpur or in front of your TV set come February 6. The countdown has, indeed, begun.

The writer is a cricket historian