India’s tour of South Africa may end up being shortened, but for the players it would remain among their bigger challenges. Remember ever since South Africa were reinstated to international cricket India have only won a couple of Tests in the Proteas nation, one at Johannesburg in 2006 and the other at Durban in 2010. Thus, for the players, the tour remains highly significant even if the Indian cricket board thinks otherwise, much to the chagrin of the cricket fans. The team selection would thus be highly critical for India’s tour of South Africa, which will take place at the end of the year.
A lot has changed since India last visited South Africa in 2010. It was the tour during which Sachin Tendulkar last scored a Test century – that magnificent 146 at Cape Town. With latest reports emerging, he might actually not tour South Africa this time round, possibly announcing his retirement after the home series against West Indies. VVS Laxman, who was the hero of India’s triumph at Durban has hung up his boots while Rahul Dravid, another talisman of Indian cricket, is also no longer part of the Indian squad.
Worryingly, quite a few of the experienced Indian players from that tour are no longer in their prime and have since been axed. Harbhajan Singh had a decent tour in 2010 and is still only 30, but his off-spin no longer looks threatening. Both the openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have struggled miserably over the last two-three seasons. They toured both Australia and England and were complete failures. In fact, the selectors had to face extreme criticism to keep them in the side before finally axing them after they failed one game after the game constantly.
The one man who has enhanced his reputation since the last tour has been Cheteshwar Pujara. The youngster struggled on his maiden tour to South Africa in 2010, but since has tasted grand success at home. However, he would undoubtedly be tested once again in the difficult South African conditions. This time though Pujara should be better prepared. The big quandary for the selectors would though be how to balance the side. Being such a tough tour, it would be important to have a right mix of talent, exuberance and experience. Selecting such a team would be massive task for them.
The problem for Indian selectors is twin-fold. They have too many inexperienced players in the squad at the moment. The likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have had exceptional starts to their careers, but South Africa would be a completely different proposition. Among the rest, it would be interesting to see how the likes of Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja, who have been exceptional in recent times, perform. As for the veterans, the issue with the likes of Zaheer Khan, Sehwag, Gambhir and Harbhajan is that while they have vast experience all of them seem to have gone past their best. It would be intriguing to see how the selectors deal with the dilemma.
--By A Cricket Analyst