India Vs South Africa 1st Test: Virat Kohli And His Team Face A Real Test Of Class And Character
Irrespective of how well the Indians have played at home, every series in South Africa has been a real test for all the players.
South Africa has been equally a case of history and mystery, whenever India have toured the Rainbow Nation. History was created when India played the first-ever Test in 1992 in that country after decades of isolation due to apartheid. It was repeated in a different way when, in 2011, Sachin Tendulkar scored what eventually was his last Test century. The mystery was that of Pravin Amre, who scored an elusive century on debut for India at Durban in 1992, but was eventually dumped from the Indian team by 1994, in spite of returning an average of over 42.
The other mystery is the absence of Kingsmead, Durban, from the Test itinerary. With a large population of Indian origin, Durban would surely have been a big-ticket Test. But South Africa have won only four of nine Tests played there, so that one can be explained.
It also makes it pretty clear that the Proteas are not thinking of being hospitable hosts. They will Test India's class and character on the harder tracks of Cape Town, Centurion and Johannesburg.
The Newlands pitch at Cape Town however could well be a blessing in disguise for India. While it will be alien from anything they have played on for the last year or so, at least the lack of water, as has been reported in the media, has led to a little less irrigation of the square, and may well provide Virat Kohli and his boys with conditions closest to home.
It will however, as always, depend on the team's ability to take 20 wickets that will decide any match. In this direction, the Indian pace battery may not be as happy with the dry track.
India's bowling may well depend on how the likes of Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvaneswar Kumar do, since they are carded to be the ones to make the final XI in the 1st Test.
However, the onus may still fall eventually on Ravichandran Ashwin to deliver. Especially if India bat first. With Ravindra Jadeja on the doubtful list, Ashwin will have handle the spin department in a series which could also well be make or break for the off-spinner.
The batting will also be tested, but none of them are really threatened in terms of being dropped from the team, since they all seem to have Kohli's backing. Ashwin, on the other hand, may not necessarily do so.
Ironically, it will be the Mumbai duo of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma who will in the hot seat if there are any questions about the batting. But that is just for now. Other may join that list as the series progresses.
India have of a poor record in South Africa as they lost five out of six series and drawn one.
Since 1992, India have only won two out of 17 Tests played on South African soil -- in 2006-07 under Rahul Dravid and in 2010-11 under MS Dhoni.
Significantly, though, the Indians have pushed South Africa hard on their two most recent tours -- in 2010-11 and 2013-14, sharing the first series and narrowly losing the second.
Thirteen players of India's 2013-14 side are part of the current squad they have become a vastly more experienced team, which has become accustomed to winning.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Parthiv Patel.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyne, Quinton de Kock (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Chris Morris, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo.
Match starts at 2 pm IST.
(With PTI inputs)