India look to break South Africa duck

India look to break South Africa duck

With hosts in transition, Kohli and company fancy maiden series win

India are in South Africa for a three-Test series, starting with the opener from Sunday at the SuperSport Park in Centurion. Credit: IANS Photo

There is a new Covid-19 variant in the air. Notwithstanding, a new series is upon us, one which is expected to keep the days from rolling into one another indiscriminately. A new, worthy distraction. 

India are in South Africa for a three-Test series, starting with the opener from Sunday at the SuperSport Park in Centurion. It’s a Boxing Day start for the ages, not because of the potential quality of content but because of the drama these teams have endured of late. 

Even as South Africa’s racial conflict continues to systematically disturb the disgruntled institution - a lot of which came as driftwood recently - the Indian team is on the cusp of a revolution. 

Skipper Virat Kohli’s straight-from-the-heart press conference in the lead up to this series had more than a twinge of rebellion in it. He typically took on the world, but this time, starved of runs, he himself is on a sticky wicket. 

The whole episode reeks of secrecy and larger-than-cricket egos. Not unlike the situation India found themselves in on their 2006 tour. Ironically, the characters involved are much the same. 

Sourav Ganguly was unceremoniously removed from captaincy but he "fought" his way back into the team. Rahul Dravid was given the keys to the castle. Greg Chappell had his eyes set on whipping the Indian-ness out of the Indian team. 

Also read: Kohli's final frontier: Team combination on captain's mind as India take on South Africa

Now, Ganguly is the president of the BCCI. Dravid is the coach of the team. Kohli is fighting to stay, and the board has forgotten what the whipping is for.  

The funny thing about tumultuous periods is that it sometimes brings teams together in inexplicable ways. It did so in 2006 when the Indian team won their first-ever Test in South Africa. The series was lost, but a step was taken. And Indian cricket has since looked more fertile.   

This then, 15 years later, could well be the next step: a series victory in South Africa. 

It’s not one India has achieved so far, but it’s certainly within their grasp for the team which stands in their way is barely a pale shadow of its illustrious recent past. Case in point: South Africa have lost five of their last eight home Tests.

And since the series will be played behind closed doors, the only real advantage South Africa can build on are the conditions. Typically, the ball will swing and there will be plenty of bounce. 

Also read: Boxing Day Test: Very clear on playing XI, says Dravid

Worrisome conditions against the likes of Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada. Not so against Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Duanne Olivier. No Anrich Nortje (hip injury) either. Skipper Dean Elgar didn’t have much luck with team inheritance.  

This then bodes well for the visiting unit, provided they make the right calls at the batting end. 

The bowling unit pretty much picks itself with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj as the frontline pacers. R Ashwin and Shardul Thakur should be the other two since Ravindra Jadeja is out, and India aren’t going to veer from the five-bowler strategy.

Even the batting line-up picks itself with KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal at the top followed by Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli. The only problem arises with the No. 5 slot. Actually, it’s hardly a problem, it’s just that the team has made it so.

Ajinkya Rahane has barely scored runs the last two years. Shreyas Iyer scored a century on debut against New Zealand last month. Hanuma Vihari’s overseas credentials, and defensive technique, are far too impressive to ignore any longer. The pick is obvious.  

And at No.6 there’s Rishabh Pant followed by two bowlers - Ashwin and Thakur - who can do more than a bit of batting.

So Kohli has a couple of tough calls to make in terms of composition, but his every bad move, every bad innings, every unfavourable result will be noted; success mostly ignored. The BCCI is on the prowl, and there’s only so long Kohli can run on this savanna.

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