India look to Harbhajan to pep bowling

Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2001, 21:37 [IST]
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Centurion Park (Pretoria): Bowling will be their main concern as Indians go into their second match in the triangular One-day series against South Africa at Centurion park on Wednesday seeking to avenge the loss in the first in Johannesburg last Friday. The thrashing that their bowlers took in the first game, eventually resulting in a six-wicket defeat after the batsmen had put on a healthy 279 on board, has already prompted the Indian team management to recall off spinner Harbhajan Singh. Harbhajan, who missed his first match after making a stunning return to the Indian side during the home series against Australia earlier this year, had been left out of the Johannesburg game considering the pace-friendly pitches in this country, which, the Indians thought, make the inclusion of two spinners a luxury they could do without. However, one bad result seems to have changed that mindset and the youngster from Punjab, who has 35 wickets from 29 matches, is almost a certainty for Wednesday's game despite the pitch at Centurion being considered to be even more helpful for the fast bowlers than the one at Johannesburg. It was still not clear whom Harbhajan would replace in the team. The inclusion of Harbhajan is, at best, just one of the possible solutions to India's woes. The more significant part is the discipline from the other bowlers, notably Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, who were guilty of being very wayward in the first 15 overs of the first match. Both Srinath and Prasad are seasoned campaigners and should learn from their mistakes. In the absence of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, they still remain India's best bet on these pitches. Srinath, in particular, was quite successful when India toured this country last time. Captain Saurav Ganguly, who had come down heavily on his bowlers after the defeat, realised this point and reposed his confidence in his medium-pacers on Tuesday. "They are quite capable bowlers and I am sure they will come back," Ganguly said. Ganguly also realises that though India did get to a good total in Johannesburg, it was probably 20 to 30 runs too short considering the start that it achieved. After the opening pair had put on 193 runs, scoring around five an over, a total of over 300 was only reasonable to expect. "We are not playing the best cricket in the last 10 overs," Ganguly said and cited the instances of the ICC Knock-out series final in Nairobi last year and fifth One- dayer against Australia in Goa earlier this year where his team squandered good bases of 220 and 210 in the 40th over to manage just 270 and 265 respectively. "It's been the situation for the last six to seven months now - a question of missed opportunities. Friday's loss was a mixture of many things really," he said also mentioning the catch of Herschelle Gibbs he dropped in the initial part of the South African innings. While Ganguly's return to form has come as a big relief, the Indians would have to play more aggressively in the slog overs to convert good foundations into huge totals. Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar, returning to international cricket after missing the tour of Sri Lanka due to a toe injury, made a mockery of Indian batsmen's perceived weakness against fast bowling on fast and bouncy tracks in the first match. The other batsmen have also not shown any discomfort against the quickies on this tour so far though they couldn't do much in the Johannesburg game. The good batting performance in the first match and the compulsion to include Harbhajan Singh might prompt the team management to leave out a specialist batsman, probably Shiv Sunder Das who made his One-day debut in Johannesburg. However, the team management was not ready to commit itself on this and the possibility of going in with two fast bowlers instead of three can also not be ruled out. Meanwhile, South Africa has reinforced its team bringing in Boeta Dippenaar and Charl Langeveldt and exchanging Claude Henderson for Nicky Boje for the next two matches. Boje has emerged as a front-line spin al- rounder in the last two seasons, claiming 43 wickets and accumulating 780 runs from 56 matches and has completely recovered from his knee injury which kept him out of international cricket for some time. Langeveldt, who received a ferocious blow on his head by a Yuvraj Singh shot in the Indians' game against South Africa 'A', is expected to add variety to the already pace-dominated attack of the hosts. The home bowlers had taken a pounding from the Indian skipper who hit as many as 14 fours and five sixes in the first match and the South Africans would be keen to try out Langeveldt in Wednesday's match especially since its fastest bowler Mfunenko Ngam was ruled out for the series due to a shoulder injury. The South Africans have played true to potential in the first two matches of the series, winning both by comfortable margins. Their batting has looked solid with Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis continuing their brilliant form that they displayed on the tour of Zimbabwe. Their bowling is formidable even in the absence of Allan Donald. However, the fielding, where the South Africans have set standards, has looked quite sloppy in the first two matches. There have been a number of dropped catches and the ground fielding too has been far from what the South Africans are known for. The pitch, which has a reputation for helping the fast bowlers, is being prepared to suit the batsmen as well. Centurion grounds man Hilbert Smith said he expected the pitch to behave similar to the one at Johannesburg though the outfield would be slower. India and South Africa have so far met 39 times in One-day Internationals with the balance heavily tilted in favour of the hosts who have won 25 and lost 13. More importantly, India has won just two of its matches on the South African soil, both of them coming on its inaugural tour to this country almost a decade back in 1992-93.

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