|Zaheer Khan (R) was injured during India's latest tour of England [GALLO/GETTY]
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said on Monday that the presence of experienced pace bowler Zaheer Khan will greatly improve the team's chances of winning an upcoming four-Test series in Australia.
"The bowling looks good now as Zaheer is back in the side and Umesh Yadav can bowl at over 140 kilometers (88 miles) per hour,'' Dhoni said before the team's departure for the four-Test series that starts in Melbourne on December 26.
"This team can beat Australia."
Khan, who has taken 273 wickets in 79 Tests, has recovered from hamstring and ankle injuries that he sustained during a tour of England this summer.
The 33-year-old was named as an additional member to the squad of 16 subject to fitness, which he has had to prove in domestic cricket.
Coach Duncan Fletcher had indicated that Khan's fitness needed to be assessed in practice games.
"He has looked to be in very good condition but we do not want to rush him into it (Test matches),'' Fletcher said.
Khan's presence assumes significance after India has already had to withdraw two first-choice pace bowlers due to injuries. Praveen Kumar (rib) and Varun Aaron (back) have been replaced by Abhimanyu Mithun and uncapped
Ishant Sharma is the only other bowler apart from Zaheer to have played Tests in Australia as spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha are also making their first trip there for a Test series.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh was not picked.
"The new bowlers have done well in the opportunities they have got and have stepped up when the main bowlers weren't available. Our bowlers are talented and they will improve with experience,'' Dhoni said.
"Many of our players have played in Australia before and that will help us. If you see, the batting lineup is quite similar (to the one that toured Australia in 2007-08)"
Indian captain Mahendra Dhoni
"It is important to have a slow buildup for bowlers and so the practice games will be useful ahead of the Boxing Day Test,'' said Dhoni, who was rested for a five-game one-day home series against the West Indies that ended on Sunday.
"I am feeling mentally fresh after the break and am looking forward to the Australian tour. I feel we have enough time to prepare for the first Test,'' Dhoni said.
Dhoni added that the experience of his batting lineup is likely to provide a boost to the team.
"Many of our players have played in Australia before and that will help us. If you see, the batting lineup is quite similar (to the one that toured Australia in 2007-08),'' he said.
India has an experienced batting lineup that includes Sachin Tendulkar, who is looking for a 100th international century.
Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are the other experienced batsmen in the team.
The Tests will be played in Melbourne (Dec. 26-30), Sydney (Jan. 3-7), Perth (Jan. 13-17) and Adelaide (Jan. 24-28).
After the Tests, India will play two Twenty20 games against Australia and participate in a triangular one-day series that also includes Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile Sri Lanka are confident key batsman Kumar Sangakkara will recover from a hand injury in time for the first Test against South Africa starting on Thursday.
Sangakkara, 34, split the webbing between the index and second fingers of his right hand during the Sri Lanka's
weather-affected warm-up match against an SA Invitation XI in Benoni at the weekend and was unable to bat.
Sri Lanka team manager Anura Tennekoon said he was confident Sangakkara, Sri Lanka's second highest all-time run-scorer with 9167 runs in 103 Tests, will be able to play in the first Test at Centurion.
"Sanga has split the webbing on his right hand, but it's okay, he's recovering well and, according to the medical
experts, he should be fine for the first Test," Tennekoon said on Monday.
Sri Lanka's fast bowling prospects are less positive, however, after Nuwan Pradeep's hamstring strain added to a run
of injuries among the pacemen.
| Returning Sangakkara will hope to improve fortunes of Sri Lanka on South African soil [GALLO/GETTY]
Nuwan Kulasekara, Dhammika Prasad, Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal were all ruled out of the tour before departure and the 25-year-old Pradeep is now likely to be joining them back home, Tennekoon said.
"Nuwan Pradeep will likely have to return home and be replaced. The replacement hasn't been decided yet because the selectors want to look at a few bowlers in domestic matches first. So it's unlikely the replacement will arrive in time for the first Test."
Sri Lanka have not won a Test in South Africa in seven attempts and the home side's vice-captain AB de Villiers said the tourists held little fear for them.
"If we get a good cricket wicket and we play good cricket, then they're not going to stop us," De Villiers told a news conference at Centurion on Monday.
The batsman said the series represented an ideal opportunity for the South Africans to end an astonishing gap of three years since their last series win at home, over Bangladesh in 2008/9.
"We need to get back to playing consistently good cricket for longer periods, that's probably the reason we haven't won at home for a while. We want to do that for the whole series against Sri Lanka," De Villiers said.
"My feeling is that Test cricket is all about momentum and you get waves that are up and down. Whoever maximises their opportunities when they're on top, when they have the opposition on the ropes, will win. You have to finish off the opposition, be aggressive, whether you're batting or bowling."