Of the 6 batsmen who are in the Indian side for the Johannesburg Test match, 5 played in the Mumbai Test of the 2000 series. Since that time, India have flirted with Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Akash Chopra, Shiv Sunder Das and Gautam Gambhir in the test batting line up. It is a measure of the shift in selection policy from Kiran More to Dilip Vengsarkar. All the Indian batsmen, bar Sehwag and and to a lesser extent Wasim Jaffer, gave a good account of themselves, and all the dismissals were a result of good balls, rather than bad batting. Whether it is a measure of the quality of the wicket, that the South Africans have India 156/5, inspite of bowling poorly for most of the day is questionable. May be it is just that the Indian batting has aged and this is the best they could do under the circumstance. 3-4 years ago, the score on a similar day might have been 170/2, or it might still have been 156/5. We will know that only after South Africa have batted on this pitch.
A Ganguly epic on day 2 is not out of the question. If there is one player in world cricket who can make runs on sheer will power, in spite of all his technical problems and fitness issues, it is Sourav Ganguly. Mahendra Dhoni is yet another player who could fall potentially in the Ganguly category. Indias success in recent years has been down to these unorthodox, supremely talented players, rather than being due to the correctness on which Tendulkar's god given gifts flourish. Every Indian batsman barring Tendulkar and Dravid has obvious technical weaknesses - Sehwag, Laxman, Ganguly. Yet, each of these players has made their name based on their own innate method, which has defied conventional wisdom often enough. Tomorrow we will find out whether Dhoni belongs in that illustrious list.
I sense good things for India in this test match, especially if the bowlers don't get carried away and test the middle of the pitch all the time (something that Sreesanth and VRV are prone to do). Munaf Patel will rue the fact that he couldn't make it back to full fitness on this bowler friendly surface. If India compete in the first innings, then it will be down to 1 big innings - 1 batsman who can get on top of the conditions long enough to make the decisive difference, before Anil Kumble can come into play. But before that, India need to get as close to 300 as they can tomorrow, and then given nothing away with the ball.
I dare say that this match will be decided by which team gets the greater number of free square cuts and half volleys and pull shots to put away. But then, if you think about it, thats how most games are decided.