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Good idea to send Zaheer in advance.

THE Indian cricket team leaves for a short tour of South Africa high on hope but with a bowling attack that does not have much experience.

The way Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side dealt with the Aussies in the ODI series in the lead- up to Diwali was breathtaking. And when the West Indies came for what was essentially Sachin Tendulkar's two- Test farewell series, the nature of contests was pathetic.

If you talk to cricket lovers at home, people will recall the collective batting might of the Indians, with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan being the flavour of the season.

Yet, going to South Africa will be very different. This is a series which is taking place after much bickering between the two boards, as the BCCI eventually showed that it calls the shots when it comes to deciding the duration of the series and number of matches. The first ODI is to be held in Johannesburg on December 5.

The real thrill, of course, will follow in the two Tests where the hostile fast bowling of Dale Steyn and company will compete for supremacy with the young and talented Indian batsmen.

Die- hard fans of Virat, Rohit and Shikhar say they have it in them to face the pace and bounce, but where the Indians need to come good is in the bowling. For me, the biggest challenge will be the two Tests in Johannesburg and Durban where the Kookaburra ball can be difficult to handle.

Those who have played in South Africa are happy that Zaheer Khan is back in the Test side. He has rich experience and will actually be seen as the man who can guide the young Indian attack. Ishant Sharma has looked out of sorts and a nine- wicket haul against Haryana does not mean too much. Whether it will be Umesh Yadav or rising stars Mohammed Shami and Bhuvnehswar Kumar to share the new ball remains to be seen.

S o what is it about the Kookaburra ball that could make it difficult for the Indian medium pacers? Having been used to the SG ball at home, using the Kookaburra will be different, from the pattern of seam to the way the ball behaves after the shine goes off.

Zaheer has been drafted only into the Test squad but it makes sense to send him along with the squad for the ODIs as well as the venues are the same -- Jo'burg and Durban.

Unlike India, practice pitches in South Africa are of high quality and there will not be much difference to the actual match surface. Since this is such a short tour, running from December 5 to 30, sending Zaheer is a must.

He can bowl at the nets as an additional bowler ( for ODIs) and also show the younger bowlers what they need to do to be firing at the right spot. Coming back to preparation, one really does not know how much work India will be able to put in.

Coaches come into focus mostly when the team does badly, as was the case when India toured Australia and England in 2011. Critics lashed out at the entire team and leader Dhoni as the players were unable to handle the conditions and fast bowling.

Good results at home are one thing but to bat on bouncy tracks will be testing, more so when we remind ourselves that Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag are not part of the Test side anymore.

Duncan Fletcher may be the head coach, but if one man needs to show his value and utility to the side now, it is none other than bowling coach Joe Dawes. In modern cricket, even for IPL teams there are specialised batting and bowling coaches, so you can well imagine what is expected of Dawes in a series where the bowlers need to deliver.

Watching Shami bowl in the Kolkata and Mumbai Tests against West Indies was refreshing, but when one is touring abroad for the first time, the pressure is going to be very high.

There is not too much time to get used to the conditions and if one does not settle down fast, runs will slip away.

Perhaps, for bowlers like Shami, Umesh and Bhuvneshwar, this will be the biggest test as even though tracks will offer help, how they are able to handle the Kookaburra ball will be important.

Reverse swing expert Manoj Prabhakar has talked of his experience in 1992 when he did not know what to do in South Africa after the first 15 overs as the behaviour of the ball was different.

Hopefully, the BCCI will realise that sending Zaheer early makes sense as he can share his wealth of experience alongside Dawes.

s. kannan@ mailtoday. in

Senior pacer can advise young attack on how to bowl in South African conditions in ODIs too

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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