| Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, maestros both, at Newlands on Saturday. (AFP)
Cape Town: Injured paceman Munaf Patel was on Saturday ruled out of India’s third ODI against South Africa, compounding the miseries of the visiting team.
Munaf has been laid low by a sore left ankle and captain Rahul Dravid said the bowler was not fit enough to take the field in Sunday’s crucial tie.
The Gujarat player, who took two wickets in the second ODI in Durban but bowled at a much slower pace, has not taken part in practice sessions since the last two days.
Munaf is the second player to join India’s injured list on the tour after opener Virender Sehwag was forced to sit out of the Durban tie due to a freak finger injury.
It was still not clear whether Sehwag would take part in Sunday’s game although the team management was hopeful that the Delhi batsman would be fit in time for the match. “We are hopeful that Sehwag would be alright. But you can never say how a player pulls up on the morning of the match, particularly after a practice session,” the captain said.
India are already without the services of key player Yuvraj Singh, who injured his knee ligament last month.
Munaf’s absence could bring back Irfan Pathan back into equation while Sehwag’s unavailability could once again throw the door open for Wasim Jaffer.
But even a half-fit Sehwag would be deemed a better option than Jaffer for whom one-day cricket is absolutely a new, untried diet.
However, after seeing the grassless pitch at the Newlands here, the visitors must be hoping to put the big defeat behind and gain some confidence for the remaining part of the series.
Since the ground usually assists spinners and South Africa’s batsmen have a reputation for not playing spin well, Anil Kumble is likely to play, along with Harbhajan Singh. However, Makhaya Ntini took six for 22 against Australia in his last one-day match at Newlands.
The famed India batting line-up came a cropper on the bouncy Durban track and Dravid as well as coach Greg Chappell, both of whom are under enormous pressure, would be having their thinking caps on to find a way out for the struggling players.
The Newlands ground would be a real test of character for the batsmen and another slip-up will only lead to a fresh uproar among fans back home. Although Dravid has always claimed that his batsmen have the capability to counter these fast and bouncy tracks, it was high time that they showed the skills.
No doubt, the humiliating defeat in Durban would be rankling the Indian team management as the batsmen were at their wit’s end in that match as they struggled against the rampaging South African speedsters.
Moreover, the urgency showed by the BCCI in asking chairman of selection committee Dilip Vengsarkar to proceed to South Africa on a damage-control mission would have piled up the pressure on the cricketers.
The injuries to Munaf and Sehwag have upset the balance of the side, which would have to send a solid batsman in the crucial No. 3 slot. After trying Pathan for a while, Team India thinktank promoted Mohammed Kaif to that position in the last game, but it did not fetch the desired results.
Whispers from the Indian quarters suggest that Dravid wanted to bat at No. 3, but coach Chappell’s suggestion for him to be at No. 4 prevailed in the second one-dayer at the Kingsmead.
Pathan would be required for conditions in Cape Town, which may not allow Tendulkar to bowl 10 overs. The Baroda allrounder could replace either Dinesh Mongia or Suresh Raina, most likely the latter as the Punjab batsman has some experience of playing in these conditions.
For the South Africans, the challenge is of completely different kind. Captain Graeme Smith is keen that the top batsmen recover their poise and is looking for his side to improve its performance by 20 to 30 per cent.
However, the hosts are a little worked up over the form of veteran batsman Herschelle Gibbs. The Western Province player would be hoping to recover his touch in conditions, which have been home for him for long.
India (from): Rahul Dravid (captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Mohammed Kaif, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Dinesh Mongia, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Suresh Raina, Wasim Jaffer, Anil Kumble.
South Africa (from): Graeme Smith, Loots Bosman, Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers, Mark Boucher, Justin Kemp, Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel, Charles Langeveldt, Robin Peterson, Makhaya Ntini.
Umpires: Billy Doctrove (WI) and Brian Jerling (SA). TV: Ian Howell (SA).
Match Referee: Chris Broad (Eng).
Match starts: 1.30 pm (Telecast on ESPN and STAR Sports).