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India heart-warmingly confident ahead of difficult enterprise

Coach Ravi Shahstri claims that his team had it in them to pull it off anywhere in the world.

Pulakesh Mukhopadhyay | New Delhi |

Descriptions by Indians of South Africa tours for Tests sparkle only fleetingly, inevitably to take on elegiac overtones – and we all know why.

Given the no-series-win backdrop, it was great to hear, on the day India won the last Twenty20 International against Sri Lanka in Mumbai, coach Ravi Shastri swat diffidence aside and assert that the history of failure should spur our boys on to try and change it.

He wanted it to be looked upon as an opportunity to do something that had so far not been done, rather than a mission impossible. Or, someone, garland in hand, jumping down into the tiger’s enclosure at the zoo, like once it happened in Kolkata.

“We’re going there to try and win the series,” Shastri let it be known, and there was the unmistakable ring of conviction in his voice when he claimed that his team had it in them to pull it off anywhere in the world. That would have been his way of telling us that it wasn’t because of home, or southern Asian, wickets that India had been winning galore all these months.

The proof of the pudding, as they say, will always be in the eating – and Shastri knows it all right. But we, Indians, have to acknowledge that few other coaches we have had ever spoke so boldly before setting out on a trip during which there could always be an up-against-it air around Virat Kohli and his team-mates unless they wheeze into a 2-0 lead going into the third, and last, Test.

Sourav Ganguly and his men did make the 2003 World Cup final but the run-up to the tournament had been marked by several South African stalwarts of the past talking about how the wickets of the country were being neutered for batsmen to be going great guns.

There also were reports that Indian advertisers had demanded conditions in which our willow-wielding worthies would wow the world, though there were hiccups along the way up. It wasn’t really a cinch.

And if you look farther back, things were, well, as bad as it gets where getting to grips with fast bowling is concerned.

Rajan Bala’s ***The Covers Are Off*** has a sentence that sums the story up with a mind-numbing effect: “Nari Contractor, who was almost killed in the West Indies in 1961-2, said that one of his partners urinated in the middle out of sheer terror.”  Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, Pankaj Roy and Chandu Borde are quoted as saying that Wesley Hall and Roy Gilchrist made batsmen worry about their lives.

One reason why India haven’t ever won a Test series in Australia is their acute discomfort on some of the world-apart wickets down under and, in England, they have sometimes been found out on lively surfaces while coping with swing.

To be fair, it’s not Indians alone who have been found in extremis when called upon to deal with express pace. When it comes to the crunch, few people relish confronting a pace pair on a lively wicket, and history is replete with examples of it. But India would once upon a time have been additionally vulnerable considering they had little to come up with by way of retaliation.

There was no balance of terror. India will this time around be well-equipped to give as much as they are likely to get. It should be a good series, even if it’s a matter of only three Tests.