Paceman Zaheer Khan’t be risked

2010-12-16 00:00

BEFORE a ball is even hurled in today’s opening day of the Test series against India at Centurion, the Proteas have already been handed an advantage.

Zaheer Khan, who has regularly terrorised the poppadum-fingered Graeme Smith at the top of the innings, has almost certainly been ruled out of the opening salvo because of a hamstring problem.

The tourists, with a beady eye on a World Cup on home soil in a few weeks, are loath to risk the veteran left-armer, which means Mahendra Singh Dhoni will miss out on unleashing Khan in favourable conditions.

It is a terrible blow for Dhoni, but he tried his best to mask his disappointment in yesterday’s final press conference.

“We have to look at the bigger picture, with the World Cup just around the corner,” he explained.

So instead of going in with Khan licking his lips in the gloomy and most un-festive murk that is hovering around the country, Dhoni will have to field a debutant instead.

Either one of Jaidev Unadkat or Umesh Yadav will have to step into Khan’s considerable boots, and Dhoni did his best to gee them up yesterday.

“It is an opportunity for one of the youngsters to make a name for themselves. We have got to see that as a positive,” Dhoni explained.

Whichever greenhorn he plucks this morning will certainly enjoy the heavy atmosphere that will assist the seamers, but his stomach will be churning like super-sopper’s engine.

Smith and company will breathe a sigh of relief, but they will also know that they really ought to make as much out of India’s misfortune as possible.

The Proteas are in a strange place as they look to stop a run of two series at home without a triumph.

Australia came here hell-bent on revenge in 2008/09 and duly delivered the goods — make that the bads if you are a Proteas follower — while Smith’s men only managed to share the series against a resolute England because of a dominant display on a green-top at the Wanderers.

And while those two arch-rivals are locked in their own, riveting tussle over some cremated bails Down Under, the real cream of the cricketing crop is at Centurion.

Kevin Pietersen aside, the world’s best players are in town.

And the Indian lot are not short on motive.

One Test win in 12 attempts is small change for a side that lists Messrs Dravid, Sehwag, Laxman and a little master who answers to the name Tendulkar in their ranks.

Coach Gary Kirsten tried his best to prepare his lot for the conditions they were likely to face, but even he couldn’t have simulated the monsoon that has hit these parts.

It is grim, but if play occurs, it will make for compelling viewing.

Those among you who read this bleary-eyed, having risen to see what is happening in Perth, should settle in for the main course of a Test cricket buffet.

There is much at stake here as the top two sides in the world lock horns.

For Smith, the challenge is to reassert dominance on home soil.

For the visitors, the juicy carrot at the end of a mighty long stick is a triumph in a land that has appeared as foreign to them as Mars sometimes.

Kirsten has done his best to get them fighting fit, and he has done even more in the last few years by forcing the considerably talented Indians to dig even deeper in times of strife.

They are not numero uno for nothing. They can play.

Now we will see if Kirsten has shown them how to scrap when the going gets like a pair of brand-new Toughees on the first day of school.

South Africa: (probable) Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Mark Boucher (wk), Paul Harris, Morné Morkel, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

India (probable): Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (capt & wk), Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Jaidev Unadkat/Umesh Yadav.

TV times: From 10 am on SABC 3 AND SuperSport 2. Play starts at 10.30 am.

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