The Indian cricket team, so far has looked jaded and in dire need of resuscitation against the very skillful South Africans. For the first time, India lost a bilateral ODI series to South Africa on their own soil, and to make matters worse, they failed to win a single T20 – which is supposedly their stronger format.
It’s no coincidence that MS Dhoni, who is at the twilight of his batting career, was in charge of the team in the shorter formats. It isn’t only about the lack of resources at his disposal, but the failure of the team to adapt to the new rule changes.
And now, the team has an opportunity to start from the drawing board, and prove that they’re advancing as a test-playing nation under a young captain.
Virat Kohli will face his sternest test yet, when he leads the team against the World No. 1 test side on home soil. Hashim Amla, who took over after Graeme Smith, is also in dire need of form and confidence, and he almost always switches it on when he plays India in the sub-continent. While India continues to shout hoarse about the pitches and the need for turn, the South African team will probably go about their business the way they know best – raw pace, and with one of the most prolific modern batting line-ups in world cricket.
The first test at Mohali sounds like a perfect start for them. For one, they can expect the pitch to act true and have enough bounce to trouble the Indians. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will play villains on this pitch. However, when Du Plessis had a look at it a few days ago, he could tell that the pitch was dry, and that perhaps the Mohali curators are doing the unthinkable: producing turn on the quickest pitch in India. This is a knee-jerk reaction to Ravi Shastri’s disgraceful behavior after the Wankhede test, where he is alleged to have abused pitch curator Sudhir Naik for the 438 pitch. Many have conveniently forgotten that India barely lasted 35 overs on the same pitch.
Once again, AB de Villiers will be the main man against India. Amla is roaring to get back into form, while Duminy will almost certainly be back for the first test. South Africa will have a full-strength side, and even take heart from the fact that India will have to play without Ishant Sharma – who bowled brilliantly on the dusty Sri Lankan pitches. They will also savour the fact that Shikhar Dhawan is low on confidence, Virat Kohli has the added responsibility of leadership, Cheteshwar Pujara is still making a comeback and Rohit Sharma hasn’t settled in this format. Only Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane are consistent threats, and the South Africans will have a few tricks up their sleeves.
X-factor: Imran Tahir. You know it. The three quicks will harass India with their pace, and Tahir will encourage them to go for their shots and pick up wickets in the process.
Expected XI: Hashim Amla, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada
Fresh from a series win in Sri Lanka, this Indian test team is still young and finding its feet. They’ve played far more respectable cricket than the ODI team, and are beginning to show glimpses of the fighting spirit that once took them to No. 1 in the world. Kohli, however, hasn’t been able to be prolific simultaneously in both formats. He’s either scoring runs in ODIs or in tests – never both together.
This series could be Kohli’s biggest exam, and his biggest opportunity to establish a legacy and prove his mettle as a permanent leader. He will rely heavily on the form of R. Ashwin, as well as the bounce generated by Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron – who are certainties for this first test. Unfortunately for Kohli, he has to choose between Stuart Binny and Ravindra Jadeja – both of who are fringe players, and shouldn’t be first-choice picks against a touring side. He will also hope that Rohit Sharma proves himself with the opportunity he gets, and will have a tough call having to select between Pujara and KL Rahul, and Rohit Sharma and a fifth bowler.
Expected XI: Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron
It’s difficult to see India winning a test in Mohali against Steyn and Co. However, it will be interesting to see till what day they manage to prolong the defeat. A fight is always good, and could set up the battle for the rest of the series.