India faces stern test against South Africa in the post-Tendulkar era

In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, the flambuoyant Virat Kohli is expected to fill the big spot of the number four batsman in the Indian batting line-up.

Updated: December 17, 2013 18:34 IST
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The thrashing in One-Day Internationals behind them, India will be aiming to start the post-Sachin Tendulkar era in Test cricket on a positive note but the task looks daunting as they prepare to go up against the world's number one Test side, South Africa in the two-match series starting in Johannesburg on Wednesday. (India will miss Sachin Tendulkar: Morne Morkel)

Having lost the three-ODI series 2-0, the visitors will be looking to make their first mark on the tour at the Wanderers stadium, in what will be a new era in the annals of Indian cricket as the Indian Test side will play its first game in the post-Tendulkar era.

The true realisation of Tendulkar's exit will dawn when a new face comes in to bat at the fall of the second wicket during India's first innings in this Test.Virat Kohli who is touted to bat at No four, attempting to fill in the big boots of Tendulkar. (How India almost beat South Africa in 2010-11)

The two-match series will be India's first overseas Test assignment in nearly two years since their tour Down Under in 2011-12 where they suffered a 0-4 drubbing. In 12 Tests at home thereafter, India won nine, lost two and drew one, winning series' against New Zealand, Australia and West Indies, losing one to England. The long home season has also witnessed the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, once considered the backbone of the Indian middle-order. (Virat Kohli will be tested: Ray Jennings)

The period has also seen the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Harbhajan Singh being sidelined due to poor performances. In the same period, Kohli has grown from strength to strength and has become a premier batsman in the young side led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. (India have the desire to win: Pujara)

South African pacers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have peppered him with pace and bounce in the ODI series, wherein he managed just 31 runs in the first two ODIs.

Despite the failure, his aggressive mentality and gusty demeanour that was amply displayed when faced with blinding pace and fearsome bounce in the first ODI at the Wanderers.

Riled by a Morkel delivery that hit him in the ribs, Kohli didn't back away, and tried to take on Steyn and company. (South African conditions tests mental grit of a batsman: Gambhir)

In the two Tests though, he will need to mix this belligerent intent with caution.

South Africa's pace attack will once again look to exploit Indian batsmen's urge to play their shots. The first Test will present a great challenge to the Indian batters as the red ball is expected to do a lot more than the white one on the Wanderers wicket that is excellent for fast bowlers.

"There is pace and bounce in this wicket, as is the case at this ground always," said Pethuel Buthelezi, a groundsman here, who has worked on the Wanderers pitch for a long time. "But this is also a win-toss-bat-first wicket. If the batsmen get set they will like the bounce and 400 runs should be a good first innings' score," he said

It should be music to the Indian batsmen who are looking for that one innings to restore lost confidence. They have been denied competitive cricket since the Centurion ODI, with the two-day practice game at Benoni also abandoned due to a wet outfield. This only adds to their challenge, and the intrigue surrounding the Indian team selection.

With such half-baked form of his batsmen, and in light of Tendulkar's exit, will skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni pick seven batsmen or take a risk with five bowlers?

In either case, three pacers should be the norm, as is in South African conditions. But a five-bowler attack will put focus on Ravichandran Ashwin. (India vs South Africa: Top Five battles)

The off-spinner is now the leading all-rounder in Test cricket (as per ICC Test rankings) and his record doesn't disprove it.

He has two Test hundreds, albeit both at home against West Indies.

"Ashwin bats well in the tail-end of their young batting line-up and it is important for us to use the new ball well, get the top-order and retain our hunger getting into their tail," said Morne Morkel, ahead of the first Test.

With 104 wickets in 18 Tests, he could have been the attack leader as well, if not for the presence of Zaheer Khan.

Zaheer Khan's return to the fold adds much-needed strength to the India bowling attack that failed to capitalise on the friendly conditions in the ODI series. His knack of getting the better of Greame Smith (six dismissals in nine matches)comes as a bonus for the Indian team.

On the other hand, the big problem for the world's number one ranked Test side, though, will be getting off to a quick start from the perspective of the series and not just an innings.

In their last Test series versus Pakistan, played in the UAE, they gave away an advantage losing the first Test and leaving a lot to be done in the second, which they duly won.

Even so, any slip-ups here will bring alive an old memory, from 2006, when India under Rahul Dravid managed to beat South Africa at the Wanderers, thanks to a handy eight-wicket haul from S Sreesanth, and half-centuries from Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman.

A lot has changed since then for India but lightning does strike twice at the same place, sometimes.


South Africa
: Graeme Smith (c), AB de Villiers (wk), Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile (wk).

: MS Dhoni (c & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Wriddhiman Saha (wk).

Match starts
: 1400 IST.

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