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Batting or Bowling, what do you think will be Team India's Achilles' heel on its tour of South Africa?
Hopping: Neither batting nor bowling as a whole. Specifically, it is spin bowling that will prove to be India’s weakness on this tour of SA. Harbhajan Singh has demonstrated, time and again, during the past two years that he cannot be relied upon to take important wickets. And of course Anil Kumble will be sorely missed.
Manik: Though both aspects of Team India are susceptible to inconsistency, it is the batting line-up that has me more worried after the recent India-New Zealand Test series. If Chris Martin can do that the famed Indian batting line up in slightly favourable conditions, I dread to think of what Dale Steyn and company will do to it.
Is the India batting better equipped this time around to handle Dale Steyn and company?
Hopping: Last time India went to SA, Sourav Ganguly was making a high-profile comeback under the stewardship of Rahul Dravid and Coach Greg Chappell. Ganguly was there to prove a point, which leant a lot of welcome steel to the middle order. In the absence of Ganguly, the batting line up is not in any way compromised. If anything, it looks stronger than ever with the infusion of young blood.
Manik: If you had asked me last month my answer would have been a clear no. But Dravid has shown that he has conquered the demons in his head and has batted brilliantly recently. Sachin, despite a disappointing series, will always be task for any attack to surmount. And as for VVS, he has been getting better and better. With Gambhir’s recent performance in the ODIs, I feel all our batsmen are heading in to this series with good form and great confidence.
Does India have the attack to bowl the Saffers out twice in a match?
Hopping: Yes and no. ‘Yes’ because our bowlers have demonstrated often enough that they possess the means and methods to bowl sides out twice in conditions far more conducive to batting than one is likely to encounter in SA. ‘No’ because none of our bowlers, save for Zaheer Khan, ever manage to string together more than one or, at the most, two good performances in a row.
Manik: As cynical as I sound already, I would have to say no. Zaheer Khan apart, the Indian bowling line up doesn’t seem to be world class. Harbhajan is merely a pale shadow of the Turbanator we all saw rip through batting line ups. Sreesanth and Ishant still lack the consistency in line and length to trouble a solid batting line up like South Africa’s.
On paper is Team India stronger the Team South Africa?
Hopping: No, if anything, SA in its own backyard holds the edge. Bear in mind that India has never won a Test or ODI series in South Africa. Couple this with the fact that SA is a team with more than a handful of very experienced and world-class players in its ranks, and there’s no doubt in my mind that no matter what the world rankings say South Africa begin the series as firm favourites on paper and in my book.
Manik: If you look at them purely as a batting unit then yes. But when it comes to bowling the Saffers are head and shoulders above Team India. Since this tour will definitely feature pitches and conditions that are more favourable to the bowlers, in the bigger picture the South Africans definitely hold the edge.
Will India retain its number 1 position at the end of this tour?
Hopping: Only God knows for sure... and, maybe, Sachin Tendulkar.
Manik: Well I hope they do but I wouldn’t put my money on it.