India face a daunting challenge in South Africa to reaffirm their No 1 status in Test cricket when they take on the No 2 team South Africa on the latter’s home ground.
The various successes of last year will not be a benchmark for more as conditions in South Africa will be far different from home. The bouncy wickets which aid fast bowlers will pose a stiff challenge to the in-form Indian team.
The batsmen will have to readjust their techniques and the bowlers will need to focus on a different line and length to get the best out of them.
Many teams have faced problems In South Africa because of the wickets there and India will have to take control and play aggressively to counter the home team.
Most of the Indian batsmen are in top gear, except for vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. But Rahane is a good Test player and his technique is good enough to see him through.
India’s worry will be what combination to go with. Captain Virat Kohli prefers a five-man attack with three pacers and two spinners. However, they may opt for four pacers and a lone spinner on the bouncier tracks.
This will pose a major dilemma. Both Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin are among the top spinners in the world. They are a lethal combination which has destroyed many a strong line-up with their wonderful spin bowling.
Then there is a curious case of Rohit Sharma. He did very well against Sri Lanka but his overall record against the Proteas is extremely poor. His has scored just 71 runs in eight innings against them, averaging just 8.87. His inclusion will upset the balance of the side too. His chance of getting in a look-in depends on Rahane’s form or an injury situation.
K L Rahul is also a splendid player and he too may struggle to get in as Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are in better form than him. The pacemen will probably pick themselves. Bhuvneshwar Kumar may not be fast, but his ability to bowl line and length and swing it will be useful in South Africa.
Umesh Yadav is a must as he has good pace to exploit the conditions. The other two places will be for Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. The latter may face the chop if India opt for their traditional two spinners.
There is an outside chance that Jasprit Bumrah may be picked as a surprise element, knowing Kohli’s out-of-the-box thinking. His fast Yorkers may prove a match-winner.
For Faf du Plessis-South Africa, all eyes will be on their champion batsman AB de Villiers who is made his comeback a few days ago. He is a great batsman and he will be pivotal to his team’s success. The South African batting is very settled and most players are in good form. Hashim Amla counts India among his favourite teams to score runs off.
Though Dale Steyn won’t be risked, The South African attack is potent with Morne Morkel in the form of his life. Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander are wily and Keshav Maharaj is a more than useful spinner.
Kohli faces a big battle now. The two Big Boys of Test cricket are facing-off today with much at stake.
Kohli and de Villiers will be the key on which way the wind blows.