The Clash of the Titans

Neither India nor South Africa, the top two teams in the ICC Test Rankings have dominated the cricketing world like the WIs of 70s or the Aussies of 2000s. As a  fan of the 5-day game, I take huge relief in fact that not one but 3 teams tare vying for the top spot with some great cricket, close contests and nail-biting finishes; but as an Indian supporter I secretly hope for that supreme dominance.

I have long believed in this theory – If you are number one you got to be one by a long margin – the 2nd ranker should never leave the playing field thinking it was close and matter of luck where the result could’ve gone his way, he should leave the field thinking there was no way I could’ve won that contest – he beat me hands down. That’s how you earn your opponent’s respect, that’s how you dominate, and then you no longer need to prove why you are No.1

Neither India nor South Africa can boast of that dominance. One continues to have its perennial problem of batting on seaming wickets and lack of world class bowling attack, the other suffers a psychological disorder of choking at crucial moments and not being able to push for a win when they look good to run away with the game.

South Africa haven’t been able to seal a series win at home since Nov 2008. Australia won the series in 2008-2009 and England drew the series in 2009-10. They should’ve won against Pak in the last series and also against England at home but both opponents managed easy escape. The only notable win was against the weakened WI side.

India on the other hand are having a dream run in 2010. They’ve managed to come back from a losing position in most series ensuring series draws or wins. They’ve played 4 teams in 2010 – drawing with South Africa after losing the first test, similar with SL,  the epic Mohali comeback against Aus that helped the clean sweep, and later winning against NZ.

Man-to-Man the two teams are evenly matched except Nos. 6 & 7 in the batting line-up and the seamers. Ashwell Prince edges out Raina in terms of experience and home ground advantage. Mark Boucher is a far better batsman than Dhoni and the gap has widened given Dhoni’s current form, barring the 98 in the last test against NZ. I personally liked Pujara in terms of tackling swing bowling compared to Raina. Raina’s weakness to the short-pitched stuff is well-known and if I were Dhoni, I would be tempted to take Pujara in trying conditions. Temperament-wise there are no complaints against Pujara, so he just might be worth the gamble.

The South Africa seamers are way better than India’s. Zaheer has been in great touch but his injuries are a constant worry. Ishaant and Sreesanth can be erratic more often than not. Sreesanth has only one bowling performance to boast about which came here 4 years ago. If he repeats it, he ensures us a win and similarly if Ishaant repeats his debut performance against Aus in 07-08, we are in for a real fight.

I’ve heard so much about Jaidev Unadkat and his terrific stint in the first-class debut season that I would be really tempted to throw him into the sea and see how well he can swim. If he bowls deliveries like these, we could see South Africa regretting building those bouncy tracks.His debut looks almost certain with Zaheer’s hamstrung injury, would be great to see this lad perform on the big stage.

In the bowling department, South Africa clearly have an edge in with Steyn and Morkel. We all know what Steyn is capable of when he gets a friendly wicket and South Africa will ensure the pitch has a bit of everything seam, swing, bounce and pace.

As Ayaz Memon pointed out on our podcast recording today that South African pitches behave differently from those in Aus and are not easy to play on. They seem to trouble the Indian batsmen more as they not conducive to strokeplay; but given India’s experience and current mindset this series could well be different.

South Africa’s top 5 and India’s top 5 batsmen go neck-to-neck, and there is hardly telling who is better. The SA batsmen have a huge home-ground advantage over India’s dismal averages on South African soil.

The famed Indian batting has struggled in this space, and it is evident from the fact that Laxman has the best average of 41 against South Africa while the rest average below 40. Tendulkar has the highest number of centuries against SA in SA among the current lot– 3 to be precise. Dravid and Sehwag have one each while Laxman has none. Gambhir is on his first series here. There is a lot at stake for the Fab 3 and I’m sure they will look to settle most scores.

So here is my gut feel about the series:

For India:

Dravid could resurrect his career but I’m banking on Gambhir to hang in there just like he did in NZ 2009. If Zaheer plays, he could well make the difference and this could be his series like 2007 Vs. England was. Something tells me , despite having not seen Unadkat, that if he gets a chance the lad could turn a few heads around.

For South Africa:

Graeme Smith’s form will be the key. I’m hoping law of averages catches up with Amla but AB DeVilliers will be the man to fear most, who is in prime form. Steyn will be the one to watch out for but it would be interesting to see if Botha or Harris get a chance in the final XI.


At best we can win 1-0 and draw 1-1. Any other result not in our favour would be our own undoing.

On the other side, the 3rd test of the Ashes begins tomorrow. Though I’ve not done the preview for the same, I still think England might seal the series result at WACA in their favour. The Aussies are having a torrid time and the more they live in denial about the impending decline, the tougher it will be to bounce back.

All in all, fabulous 5 days of cricket lined up and it looks like my health is going to take a serious beating with late nights and early mornings being spent in front of the TV!

Are you folks tuned in as well?

(Images courtesy: and