Benoni: Indians should get out of the mental block of their past failures against short-pitched deliveries if they have to tackle the South African pace battery in the Test series beginning in Johannesburg on December 18, feels former Protea batsman Herschelle Gibbs.
Gibbs said Indian batsmen would be put under sustained pressure by South African fast bowlers with short-pitched deliveries and the visitors will have to prepare themselves for that.
"It is about being ready for short stuff because they are going to get a lot of it. They need to work on it for a while, especially in the build-up to this first Test. I can pretty much assure you that the pitch for the Wanderers' Test will be pretty similar to the one rolled out for the first ODI (on December 5)," Gibbs said.
"It will be a mind game before they set foot on the ground, and they have to be ready for it by being positive and reflecting it from their body language," he said. "It is about their mental block and they have three, at most four days to get out of it."
The Indian batsmen have not played a competitive innings since their dismal surrender at Kingsmead in the second ODI, considering that the third ODI's second innings at Centurion was washed out and not a ball was bowled here in the solitary practice match ahead of Test series.
Asked about this lack of practice by the Indians ahead the two-match Test series, the cricketer-turned-commentator said jokingly, "I think Duncan Fletcher will make excellent use of the indoor facilities available at Wanderers stadium."
The first ODI was not one that the Indian team will like to remember. They were battered and bruised by Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and company, with high bounce and fearsome pace, as India lost by 141 runs. They were expected to do better in Durban (which will host second Test from December 26) in the second ODI, with an easier-paced wicket laid out. Even so, they went under by 136 runs and handed a 134-run defeat.
Gibbs advised the young Indian batsmen to curb their aggression in early overs on South African wickets and play their strokes after getting settled down.
"This Indian batting order is very young and they are naturally aggressive batsmen. In South Africa, you need to be very watchful at start of your innings before you can bring out your strokes. In ODIs, the general norm is 15-20 deliveries. In Tests, it is a little longer," Gibbs said.
"South Africa playing at home is a phenomenal team, especially in terms of bowling attack. When you play against Steyn, Morkel and company, they will come at you with everything they have, looking to repeat same kind of energy and intensity as in ODIs. Indian batsmen need to be a bit circumspect and calm at the start of their innings. Once they settle down, they ought to play their strokes," he added.
It is ironical that batting was team India's strong suite before they embarked on this tour and as the schedule has progressed, it has become their biggest talking point. There was a lot of noise about Indian bowling attack. But seemingly, their young bowlers did well in second ODI at Durban and again in third ODI at Centurion.
"One of my observations about this Indian bowling attack is that they struggle to find the right length early on. By the time it takes for them to get things right, the match or the series, is already beyond them," Gibbs said.
"This is an area where they are struggling, to get their lengths right, to adapt to the conditions here. They need to do so quickly in the Tests because the red Kookaburra ball will do a lot more in these conditions than the white one," said the former opening batsman.
The Indian bowling attack can breathe a sigh of relief that Zaheer Khan is slated to make his comeback when the first Test begins in Johannesburg. The 88-Test veteran was out for almost a year, before his selection for this tour. And he looks fitter than ever, raring to go.
"You know Zaheer has (South African Test captain and opener) Graeme Smith's number. His return is a massive boost for the Indian bowling and he really could set the tempo with some early breakthroughs. If that happens, it should help build confidence of the Indian bowlers and help lift the batsmen as well. That's the value of experience and I am sure Zaheer's return will surely rub off on other players in that squad," Gibbs said.