Blog by: Rohinee
For India, the whole trip to South Africa has so far been like being caught between a rock and a hard place. Not only have they been unable to retaliate against the South African juggernaut on-field, but they have also been equally inept when it has come to sorting out the best team composition to salvage their reputation of being the ODI side.
The test series, consequentially, has gone to take even more significance than it what it implied initially; prior to the start of the Indian tour. Where the Indians were the favourites for the ODIs – albeit marginally – on account of them being the world’s best ODI team, South Africa will look to start the test series with a much more enhanced boost in confidence courtesy of their assured superiority in tests compared to the currently in flux Indian test side along with their 2-0 whitewash over the Indians.
Graeme Smith will mark his return to the side taking over captaincy duties from AB de Villiers allowing South Africa to start with its preferred opening combination of Smith and Alviro Petersen. The evenly distributed squad strength of the South African also takes away quite a bit of heat from the much-debated topic of the hosts having an advantage over the visitors. Dale Steyn is expected to be the pick of the South African bowling attack which is going with a three-pronged pace attack of Steyn, Vernon Philanderer and Morne Morkel. Spinner Imran Tahir rounds up the entirety of the South African bowling contingent on a track that promises extreme bounciness and pace.
Tackling the pace and bounce at Wanderers is however just the tip of the South African iceberg that the Indian team will have to deal with. Though India has managed to retain a top-spot in the test rankings, their performance in this test series will be more keenly monitored by eager eyes considering they haven’t exactly been able to produce convincing results in test series overseas, despite having consistent victories in test series held at home.
Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement seems to have left the Indian team in a state of flux with uncertainty prevailing all though despite the largeness of roles and responsibilities that has been created. Thus, while the Indian team isn’t exactly middling; the ceasing of the anchoring that Tendulkar provided to the team has left the Indians grappling for a surer footing. Most of the current Indian team’s line-up hasn’t played in South Africa which further could hurt the team’s chances considering their lack of preparation.
Alongside the surging expectations placed on Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli is the guy on whom all attention has been riveted to. As the new man in on the no.4 batting position, Kohli has a daunting task of continuing on the chapters of brilliance that Tendulkar left behind, without altering his individuality. It’s a task that no one envies, particularly at this juncture.
Where the Indian batting looks unsettled; the bowling side looks slightly bit reassuring, thanks to the rejuvenated comeback of pacer Zaheer Khan. Though the 15-man Indian squad boasts an entourage of quality spin and pace, given the nature of the track, the Indians would want to go with the best possible pace attack that they have at their disposal. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami along with Ashwin as the spinner would then make up for the bowling attack for the first test.
India’s coach Duncan Fletcher has come under fire in the wake of the crushing losses in the ODIs. Though the Englishman’s credentials aren’t by any means inadequate, this test series is an equally important pivot for Fletcher whose take-over for India followed the successful run of Gary Kirsten which saw Indian cricket being taken to far-reaching heights as never before.
Though Duncan Fletcher shies away from the limelight, there’s no denying that doing well in South Africa for the remainder of India’s sojourn there will be a priority that Fletcher would want his protégés to carry out, without any slacking.
Match Prediction: South Africa defeat India, lead the series 1-0.