Indian bowlers appear to be a formidable unit once again

2010-12-29 00:00

I MUST admit that I’ve had a bit of an identity crisis of late. It began with a trickle of tweets while I was in the studio during the first Test match at Centurion.

They were messages of congratulations revealing few details. On returning home I received further Facebook messages in a similar vein. I was momentarily­ puzzled, but quickly forgot about them until I received a phone call from a journalist at Cricinfo­. She asked whether I could confirm the breaking news that I had been appointed as the yoga coach of the Indian cricket team.

After much hilarity I checked my watch and it wasn’t April 1. Needless to say I quickly quashed the rumour hoping that would be the end of it. It was not to be as my attention was soon drawn to half-a-dozen newspaper articles­ confirming my appointment, including an article on the ICC’s official website. My palms began to sweat as I realised the power of viral news even when it’s unfounded.

As any player will tell you, cricketers, especially retired ones, are possibly among the least supple of sportsmen. My attempts at the lotus position have tied me up in knots, a bit like South Africa’s batsmen in their first innings at Kingsmead.

As someone who is fond of pulling people’s legs (not stretching them) you can imagine the flack this news morsel has generated from all quarters. Hilarious SMSes have streamed in, the best from a friend in Cape Town that read: “Oh serene yogi master, don’t let your karma run over your dogma!”

Moving onto a far more worthy subject, someone, who unlike me, is sure of his role and identity in the Indian fold, is Zaheer Khan. The Indian attack appeared directionless without him in the first Test. With him, India seem to have found their bowling compass.

Khan has done more than just bolster the flagging Indian attack, he has galvanised it. Monday’s impressive bowling display showed just how influential he is. Khan was the catalyst for an inspired Indian bowling performance on an incredible second day at Kingsmead where 18 wickets tumbled.

Harbhajan Singh admitted by his own high standards that his performance in the first Test match was poor. In South Africa’s first innings at Kingsmead he turned it around magnificently and has acknowledged the key role played by Khan: “He takes crucial wickets, but more importantly he helps others to bowl well. He’s the man.”

Much has been made of the fact that the Kingsmead wicket is tailormade for seamers, but as we saw on Monday there is more than enough to excite the spinners. Singh’s eyes certainly lit up as the wickets began to fall.

In South Africa’s first innings it was Khan who got vital wickets upfront including that of captain Graeme Smith, who will want to prove he is not Khan’s bunny. With the firepower of Khan back in the attack and with no assistance from their KZN-based yoga instructor, the Indian bowlers appear to be a unit again and a formidable one at that.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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