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India unsure of South African tactics

Nobody really wants it! South Africa were intent on drying up the runs and India, after a full on series against Australia where defensive tactics hardly rated a mention, were unsure of how to overcome South Africa's tactics. It doesn't make for riveting viewing but as coaches say the result always justifies the means.

India have themselves to blame as most of the major batsmen, except Gautam Gambhir, got good sights and not one was able to convert them in a meaningful way. One reason is the basic adage of overcoming defensive tactics with energetic running between the wickets, something India just will not do. For them, it's all about boundaries but opposing sides know it and plan accordingly. It's almost a sin that so many batsmen pass 20 and not one gets to the ton, especially with such a talented line-up.

Both these sides respect each other but they seem to be going through the motions as it's only a two-Test series and neither team will risk a bad session or two, that could result in a loss. There is too much at stake for both captains, and with all the negative possibilities a full series is perhaps the only way to really evaluate these two sides.

India has the edge

At the halfway stage in the second Test, a draw is still the most likely outcome but India definitely have the edge. How much the lower order can contribute will be the vital factor. Past results are not encouraging for India, since a major part of the problem is not just occupation of the crease but brisk scoring.

South Africa will just not play that game and will set defensive fields and bowl wide of the stumps. The wicket, too, is working against India as staying `in' is possible but quick scoring is a real problem.

A lead of 150 would be a great result for India but how long will it take? Time and light are always factors. Partnerships have threatened, but only the Dravid-Sehwag partnership was significant. Forty-odd partnerships are decent achievements, but not match winning ones. The wicket to me was a typical one where patience is your number one ally and the modern Indian batsmen brought up on a diet of one-dayers are intent on quick scoring.

A couple of play-ons is always an indication of a slow low wicket devoid of any pace. History usually means the wicket will turn and the slow bowlers will be a real factor. But modern seamers are more adept at using slower wickets to their advantage. Uneven bounce makes batting difficult and scoring quickly almost impossible. South Africa has used this tactic in all their sub-continent sojourns, mostly to good effect. South Africa will continue to play as they have on the tour, so India will have to make the running if they have to win. More aggressive batting (Sehwag excepted) but more importantly much more aggressive bowling and fielding will be the key. But with it comes the risk of losing. Are they prepared to do that in a two-match series? It's hard to see, but not out of the question.

For the second half of this Test match the key man will be Harbhajan Singh, both with the bat and ball. He's an aggressive cricketer and with a bit of luck with the bat could produce a little cameo of 30 or 40 in quick time. If Dinesh Kaarthick can see off the new ball tomorrow, India could snatch this one out of the fire.

How much will it spin? There are certainly signs of wear and South Africa have not been at their most comfortable against quality spin. So a handy lead will play on the South African batsmen's minds and enable Ganguly to keep close catchers most of the time.

Both sides will go to bed just a little nervous as there are still plenty of overs left but in the end it might just be the bad light at this time of the year that wins the day. If so, South Africa will be relieved and will come home happier than when they left.


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