It's been a long summer for the Proteas with 12 Test matches, 16 ODIs and and eight Pro20 matches.
It is perhaps appropriate that they are in Kanpur, not far from the Himalayas, as the Proteas Castle Test squad prepare to ascend the final summit of the season – their own Everest if you like. Victory over India in the final Future Cup Test match starting on Friday would give them a 2-0 series victory to equal the achievement of Hansie Cronje’s squad in 2000.
But it would go far beyond that. It would give South Africa their third successive series triumph on the sub-continent in the space of six months, something that has never been attempted or achieved before. It would also give the Proteas the outright second position on the ICC Test log ahead of a side who were highly competitive against the Australian world champions ‘down under’ a couple of months ago.
If the Proteas can win this series, then they will know that they are perfectly on track to challenge Australia in their away and home series at the end of the year. It will also confirm their continuing upward curve of success as they prepare for the testing tour of England in July.
Indeed, the marketing men at the ECB must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of having the high-riding Proteas as their guests this year.
“Control the controllables and concentrate on your skills” has been the theme of coach Mickey Arthur’s build-up to his players this week.
One doubts whether there has ever been a series in which the playing surfaces have been such a dominant theme in the local media. There were complaints that it was too flat at Chennai, and too lively at Ahmedabad. The Kanpur strip has merited front page treatment as well but it has left the Proteas totally unphased.
“We always expected India to play with three spinners in all our preparation,” commented Arthur. “We have shown our ability to play on all surfaces and against all opponents in the past. We demonstrated it in Pakistan and more recently in Bangladesh. We will be focused to do the job under whatever circumstances prevail. The preparation of the pitch is not something we can control.”
The Proteas have the option of considering Robin Peterson as a second spin bowler ahead of one of the pace trio that did so well at Ahmedabad. On the other hand, if the ball goes through the surface, then pace will probably be just as effective.
“If the pitch breaks up, then I would rather face their spinners than our own quicks operating at 140 to 150km/h,” commented master batsman Jacques Kallis.
India have selection problems of their own, largely concerning the fitness of two key players – spin bowler and captain Anil Kumble and fast bowling find Ishant Sharma. In addition they have to decide whether to revert to a sixth specialist batsman such as Yuvraj Singh or Mohammed Kaif or to continue with the Ahmedabad tactic of playing Irfan Pathan as a No. 6 all-rounder.
What is certain is that the Proteas are entitled to start the match as favourites, which tells one a lot about both the level of their play at the moment and their mental ascendancy.
© Cricket South Africa
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