Even after 12 years and over 100 Test matches, the thrill of the contest remains just as strong as it was when I made my debut as a teenager. Test cricket is the ultimate challenge and the ultimate form of the game and I hope it always will be so.
While I am also extremely excited about playing in the IPL and being a part of this new era, to play a contest over five days will always demand more concentration, physical stamina and skill than a match lasting three hours, although I fully understand that the shorter the game the more intense the action and entertainment.
There can be little doubt that whoever emerges the winner after three back-to-back Tests will be the better team and we are confident that we have prepared in the best possible way, given the time constraints, and given ourselves the best chance of victory.
Much has been made of us not playing a warm-up match before the series. To be honest, I don’t understand the fuss. Most warm-up games these days include more than 11 players per side which means they are not first-class fixtures and, consequently, are treated pretty much like a net session anyway.
We have been able to give all our players a decent bat and bowl in good conditions and nobody has spent a day sitting in the changing room watching, as can happen during a game.
We have an extremely settled team and, barring just two changes, have played together for almost all of the last two years. Neil McKenzie was given a chance at the top of the batting order in place of Herschelle Gibbs and his confidence is naturally high after a brilliant double-century and a share of the world record opening partnership in Chittagong a few weeks ago.
The top six has a very settled look and feel to it with the captain looking like’s back to his best and Hashim Amla looking more and settled with every innings at number three. Ashwell Prince is exactly the kind of fighter every teams needs in the middle-order and, while AB de Villiers always wanted to open the innings, he has realised the importance of the number six slot and is now so happy there that he wants to stay put!
Mark Boucher’s reputation speaks for itself and, now that Adam Gilchrist has retired, I would rate him as the best number seven in world cricket. Any team would miss the class of someone like Shaun Pollock but the fact that we have won our last five or six Test series suggests that our emphasis on playing an aggressive bowling attack intent on taking 20 wickets has worked.
For a decade, Shaun exerted such control from one end that pressure inevitably built on the batsmen but when the situation demands that we ‘tie up’ an end, then I am happy to try and do that job along with Paul Harris.
‘Harrow’ made his debut against India a couple of seasons ago and took four wickets, including Sachin’s, in the first innings. He may not look very threatening but that probably works in his favour because he can be lethal if he’s under-estimated. Hopefully, a couple of the famous Indian top six will feel the urge to ‘take him on.’ Most spinners enjoy their job more if the batsmen are playing a few shots.
A couple of days ago I admitted that the selection problems and off-field controversies that have hung around South African cricket for the last month or so had adversely affected the team. I was asked the question and I didn’t see any point in not telling the truth – it has been unsettling and emotions have run high at times. But let me be equally honest now: we are fully focussed and by the time we walk on to the field on Wednesday morning the last thing on our minds will be selectors or administrators.
This is Test cricket, the game I dreamed about playing since I was a small boy. And to play against one of the strongest Indian teams for many years makes it all the more exciting.
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