Smith warns Proteas against slow start

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Test captain Graeme Smith has warned the Proteas they cant afford to gently ease into this opening Test against India. Photo: Lee Warren

Johannesburg - Graeme Smith’s tone was measured, but firm - the South African side can’t afford to gently ease into this opening Sunfoil Test against India, he explained.

Due to administrative bungling - mostly by the BCCI - but also recollections of his team’s previous slow starts to series’, Smith is urging his players to show more commitment from the first ball at the Wanderers this morning. “We understand that with just two Tests, we can’t afford to take a day or two to get into our straps. We respect the quality that they can produce and hopefully that will show in our performances over the next few days,” Smith, who will captain South Africa for the 104th time, said on Tuesday.

He doesn’t have to dig too deeply into his memory bank to recall just how calamitous a slow start can be. In the UAE two months ago, South Africa lost the first of two Tests against Pakistan, before bouncing back in the second.

With all due respect to Pakistan, these two Tests against India are a lot bigger. Besides all the administrative shenanigans that took place before the tour, there is also the rivalry which has built up between these two sides that has led to some intense matches, both in India and SA. The last three series have ended in draws, with India counting the 1-1 outcome here in 2010/11 as one of their most significant results away from home.

As Smith explained on Tuesday, this is a very different India team from the one to which he is accustomed. No longer must he plan for Tendulkar or Dravid, Sehwag or Gambhir. The new generation of Indian players, inspired by Tendulkar but crafted by exposure in the IPL, face an enormous task. They will play in conditions here to which they are wholly unfamiliar.

The Wanderers pitch is no different from what has been the norm in these parts in recent seasons. There is some moisture in the surface according to the South African captain, but if it stays warm, the cracks, already in evidence - though “probably not like the WACA” - may play a role in the outcome.

Smith and his counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni agree that the surface will suit the quicks, but also believe the spinners will have a role to play.

Smith was confident enough to announce his starting XI at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday, saying Imran Tahir would play while Hashim Amla would be the only change to the side that beat Pakistan in Dubai in October. “We feel that a spinner’s role will be limited in this game, but if an impact is needed then Imran is the type of bowler to do that for us. If we can make an impact with the new ball, then he can be effective, especially against the tailenders.”

Dhoni believes Ravichandran Ashwin, whose only previous experience of Tests outside of India came in Australia two seasons ago, will have to be flexible in order to be effective. “Ashwin’s role will change from how he bowls in the first innings to how he bowls in the second as there’s a big contrast. There needs to be a slight change to his approach because he won’t get the same assistance here as at home,” said Dhoni.

South Africa will continue to retain the seven frontline batsmen in their starting side, something which became a feature of their tactical approach following the enforced retirement of Mark Boucher last year.

“I feel our batting depth is good and hopefully responsibility will be taken by the top seven,” said Smith. “AB (de Villiers) taking the gloves has offered us a huge opportunity to have that X-factor in the No7 position. When we used to play against the great Australian team, (Adam) Gilchrist averaged nearly 50, and if you have a guy at No7 who can average 45 to 50, that’s huge. If you look at the tough series’ we’ve played, that No7 has won us Test series’.”

TEAMS

South Africa - Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.

India (likely) - Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkye Rahane, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.

Officials: Standing Umpires - Rod Tucker (Aus) and Steve Davis (Aus). TV Umpire - Shaun George (SA). Match Referee - Andy Pycroft (Zim)

Broadcast: TV: SABC 3/SuperSport 2 - 9.30am.

Radio - Radio 2000

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