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Does India have the pace arsenal to make inroads?

S. Dinakar

With the Test series starting on Friday, here's an assessment of the visitors' pace attack

— FILE PHOTO: K. Bhagya Prakash

UNKNOWN QUANTITY: V.R.V. Singh could well spring a surprise.

Johannesburg: The countdown for the Test series has begun. Come Friday and India will resume its quest for a maiden Test victory on South African soil.

Much hinges on the duel between the Indian batsmen and the South African pacemen. But then, it is the bowlers who ultimately win you matches.

Welcome to the big question — does India have the pace arsenal to make inroads into the home line-up.

The bowlers earned a day off from practice at Potchefstroom on Sunday. The pacemen were back, buzzing at the Wanderers on Monday.

Here's an assessment of the Indian pacemen.

Zaheer Khan: Given his experience on the surfaces here and with the Kookaburra ball, he has to be the leader of the pack. A fitter and meaner Zaheer has been outstanding on this tour, sacrificing some of his speed for control. The seaming pitches here suit him fine. His run-up may be shorter now, but has more rhythm. He has cut down on his leap. The left-armer is also hitting the right length for the surfaces here — about eight yards from the stumps at the batsman's end.

Probably, he would need to bowl with greater speed in Tests, particularly in his subsequent spells.

S. Sreesanth: He is an aggressive bowler. His run-up reflects his intent. The outswinger is Sreesanth's greatest strength. And a tendency to experiment with his action is, perhaps, his biggest weakness. He bowls at a lively pace, and can surprise the batsman with his extra speed (he has touched the 140 kmph mark on the tour). He uses the crease and alters his length cleverly, and has a handy short-pitched ball. Given his attributes, he is bound to strike with the new ball. His spells later in the innings will test him.

Sreesanth has to strive for consistency.

V.R.V Singh: This strongly-built lad could emerge the paceman of the series for India. When he sent down a few deliveries during the nets at Potchefstroom, the South African journalists were soon asking — "Who's this man?" He hits the bat hard, and bowls what the batsmen call the "heavy ball."

Importantly, he gets the ball to rise from just short of good length. He can bowl around 135 kmph without stretching himself, and at Potchefstroom, the paceman was bowling at speeds close to the 145 kmph mark. His run-up is straighter these days, so is his arm. Against Rest of South Africa, he bowled a fuller length and showed he could swing the ball as well.

A potential match-winner.

Munaf Patel: Coach Greg Chappell calls him the Glenn McGrath of the Indian attack. He has pace, two-way movement, and zeroes in on the corridor. Sadly, Munaf's ankle injury is likely to keep him out of the first Test and he may be a doubtful starter for the second as well.

Irfan Pathan: While he has been focussed, solid and determined with the bat, Pathan the bowler is clearly struggling.

The swing bowler is low on confidence.

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