Zaheer doubtful for 1st test vs. South Africa

CENTURION, South Africa - India is likely to be without its leading fast bowler on a pace-friendly Centurion pitch for the first test against South Africa on Thursday.

By (AP)

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Published: Wed 15 Dec 2010, 8:46 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:24 AM

Left-arm quick Zaheer Khan was “quite doubtful” because of a groin injury, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said on Wednesday.

Without Khan’s 10-year experience, India’s attack will be lighter at SuperSport Park, where conditions are expected to suit the aggressive fast bowling tactics of South Africa.

“Of course it is a blow,” Dhoni said of the possibility of losing his bowling spearhead. “But, at the same time we have to see the longer picture. ... Until we are 100 percent sure about his fitness or the injury we won’t risk him.”

Speaking at the team hotel in Johannesburg after rain caused India to miss its final training session at Centurion, Dhoni also confirmed Zaheer would be replaced by an uncapped player if he was ruled out — a decision which will be made on the morning of the match, the captain said.

Either 19-year-old medium-pacer Jaidev Unadkat or Umesh Yadav, 23, is set to step into the test 11 for the first time.

Unadkat has played just eight first-class matches and has yet to feature in an international game. Yadav, a right-arm fast bowler, has played three ODIs and 17 first-class matches.

“The guy who will be making his debut, what will be important will be to bowl to his strength,” Dhoni said. “Enjoying the moment is one of the most crucial things, rather than getting caught up in the expectation level or the pressure. So, I think it’s a good opportunity.”

Zaheer’s absence will benefit the South African team in conditions already helpful to its own fast bowlers. Rain throughout the week at Centurion — just north of Johannesburg — has made a pitch which was already pace-friendly even juicier. It has also put Thursday’s first day’s play in doubt.

Earlier Wednesday, South Africa skipper Graeme Smith said at SuperSport Park, where light drizzle continued to fall, that his team hoped for “pace and bounce” from the pitch in the first of three tests between cricket’s top-ranked teams.

There was also pressure on the No. 1-ranked India to prove itself as the best team in the world in unfamiliar conditions, Smith said.

India has lost all four of its previous series in South Africa and although it is unbeaten in its last nine series, eight of those have been played on generally slow pitches on the Asian subcontinent.

“I think if you’re No. 1 in the world you have to be consistently performing around the world,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt about that. Australia held the mantle for a long time and they were beating teams in their own backyard all the time.

“As much as you want to be strong at home, you have to be strong away from home, too. I think that pressure is on India.”

As South Africa worked out in the wet, Dhoni responded to Smith’s comments from the warmth of India’s hotel.

“We always play under pressure, whether we play in India or we play abroad,” he said. That’s something that goes hand in hand with the Indian cricket team.

“It doesn’t matter if we are playing Bangladesh, Zimbabwe or any other side, we are always considered to be under pressure because the expectation levels back home are really high.”

Both teams have settled, quality batting lineups with only one fast bowling position in each team apparently undecided.

India will choose between Unadkat or Yadav if Zaheer is unfit, while South Africa has to pick between Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Ryan McLaren for its third fast bowling spot alongside Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

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