India’s Laxman doubtful for first South Africa Test

Injury-ravaged India were sweating over the fitness of key middle-order batsman Venkatsai Laxman ahead of the first Test against South Africa starting on Saturday.

Laxman, a Test veteran with 6 993 runs, has yet to recover fully from a finger injury which forced him to sit out of India’s second Test against Bangladesh at Dhaka.

“There is uncertainty over Laxman at the moment,” Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told a press conference in Nagpur.

“He batted in the nets but we are still waiting on the final word on him. He will share his thoughts with the physio and based on that we will take a decision on his availability.”

The hosts have already lost Rahul Dravid, a vital cog in the middle order, and the flamboyant Yuvraj Singh to injuries picked during their 2-0 away win against Bangladesh.

Their absence has opened the doors to the likes of Subramaniam Badrinath, Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma, who was drafted in the squad as a cover for Laxman on Thursday.

Badrinath and Rohit Sharma have yet to play in the longest version of the game while Vijay has appeared in three Test matches.

“Injuries are beyond our control,” said Dhoni. “We are going to miss our experienced players but at the same time their absence provides an opportunity for the youngsters to step in and score runs.

“It will be a challenge but we have openers who have done well against various opposition and there is no reason why they cannot do that again. There will be pressure but we are now used to playing under pressure.”

South African skipper Graeme Smith, who is eyeing to topple India from the top in the Test rankings, said the injuries were bound to hurt the hosts.

“Guys like Laxman and Dravid come with a lot of experience. They bring a kind of calmness to the team.

“We have a lot of respect for the new players coming in but it does put more pressure on their openers [Gautam] Gambhir and [Virender] Sehwag.”

Smith also tried to downplay the hype around this two-Test series, which is being billed as a battle for the Test world championship crown.

India go into the series with 124 points, four ahead of South Africa, whom they displaced at the top in December with a 2-0 win over Sri Lanka at home.

South Africa need to win 1-0, which will take them to 123 points and see India drop to 122. If South Africa sweep the series they will go up to 125 points and India will fall to 120.

The Proteas have won two of their previous eight Tests, four of which were against Australia, but their inability to register a series victory over England at home recently kept them in the second place.

“In the last two years we have had intense series against Australia, England and India. We are battle-hardened now,” said Smith.

“This time we want to play better cricket than India. Hopefully, we will adapt our style of play to these conditions. The opportunity to beat India excites us and if we do that we get the ranking.

“I think at the moment we have everything to gain on this tour and India has got everything to lose. It is the opportunity to win in India that excites us.”

The second and final Test begins in Kolkata on February 14. — AFP

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Abhaya Srivastava
Abhaya Srivastava is Agence France Presses South Asia special correspondent.

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