India in SA
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Sehwag starts his SA 'prep'
Cape Town – Swashbuckling opening batsman Virender Sehwag will be the only truly familiar face to South Africans on display when Indian players begin their preparation for the major Test series against the Proteas at Claremont Cricket Club here on Tuesday afternoon.
That is when coach Gary Kirsten has ordered a first session for his “advance guard” of troops ahead of the three-Test tussle between the two best-ranked sides in the world.
His men are arriving in batches, with some still committed to the one-day series against New Zealand, although the full squad is expected to be involved in a last net session at the club venue on Saturday.
Kirsten confirmed to Sport24 that he would start work with “three or four” players on Tuesday – various bouncy net and middle strips have been prepared to his specifications – and that number would swell gradually “until later in the week”.
Cricinfo has reported that 32-year-old Sehwag will be among the initial training party, likely also to feature virtual “unknowns” to South Africans in Cheteshwar Pujara, the 22-year-old right-handed batsman, and seamers Umesh Yadav (23) and Jaidev Unadkat (19).
The last-named trio features a mere one Test cap between them: Pujara made his debut against Australia in October, scoring 72 in the second innings of an Indian victory at Bangalore.
The teenaged Unadkat has only played eight first-class matches, although the left-arm strike bowler boasts 31 wickets.
Sehwag, of course, is an established, 84-cap crowd-puller in the Test arena, although the opportunity to get in more practice sessions in South Africa than the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid may well be beneficial for him – he averages almost 55 for India but that figure drops to less than half that (26) in five prior Tests on our soil.
The first Test starts at Centurion on December 16 without the Indians having had the benefit of a warm-up match, which explains Kirsten’s wish to create a “camp” environment while in Cape Town and then on the Highveld from next week.
England, now leading the Ashes series 1-0 after two Tests in Australia, clearly reaped the benefits of the rare luxury these days of three meaningful acclimatising matches ahead of that blue-chip series – they had three-day games against Western Australia and South Australia and a four-dayer against Australia ‘A’ in Hobart.
But at least India, yet to win or even share a series in South Africa from four attempts, have the knowledge that on their last visit (2006/07) it was the Proteas caught rather “cold” at the Wanderers – the tourists won the first Test by 123 runs before a South African backlash eventually saw them prevail 2-1.