After a disappointing performance by the Indian cricket team in both the T20’s and ODI’s, few would be expecting a winning performance against the Springboks in the Test series. The visitors have probably the best record overseas amongst all teams and are rightly the No. 1 ranked Test team. Led by Steyn they have an excellent seam attack with Tahir to provide it the spinning balance. IPL has given their batsmen exposure to Indian conditions and the confidence to attack spinners on these wickets. Their record in India over the last 7-8 years is the best of all teams and to top it all they have AB De Villiers!! It seems the writing is on the wall for Kohli’s young guns.
I would be loath to think so though. Virat Kohli is a smart street fighter and this series is going to be as much about his ambition as captain as anything else. He is the kind of guy who revels in playing against the best and he will be ready for sure. With every match his captaincy seemed to improve against the Lankans and though they were a much weaker opposition, the learnings from that tour will be reflected this series. He will definitely not play a defensive brand of cricket and one can expect a result in at least 3 of the 4 matches. Both his captaincy and batting will be critical to the team’s performance and to the final result.
The home team will definitely prepare pitches which will help their spinners and the SA batsmen’s skill will be fully tested. Their vulnerability to the turning ball was apparent in the Chennai game and after the ODI defeat, we are not going to see any pitches like the one at the Wankhede, not even at Mohali!! Batting in the first innings will be the key to success and hence we will see both teams play 6 batsmen every game unless there is a real flat pitch on offer. Reverse swing will also come into play and Ishant Sharma and Yadav / Aaron will have to contribute at least 5-6 wickets out of 20. The SA bowlers will look to exploit both the new and reverse swinging ball and the short ball will definitely be used as a weapon, more so on pitches with a bit more carry.
As far as team selection goes, I would play K L Rahul at 6 if there is no place for him at the top of the order and give him at least 2 games. Hence Rohit Sharma misses out. At Mohali you will play 2 pacers and 2 spinners but Kohli should be open to play 1 and 3 if any of the pitches turns from day 1. Ashwin will be the key to India’s bowling performance and if he isn’t fit for the first Test better rest him; can’t risk losing him for the rest of the games.
All in all I think this will be a closely contested series, but performances in those 50-50 situations when the game is in the balance will probably decide the result. The Indians will be hungry to get one back after losing in both the shorter formats and one expects them to be planned and prepared for this challenge. A winning result for either of De Villiers or Kohli will set them up as captains to watch out for over the next 5-6 years. Both are leading young teams (very young in case of Kohli and relatively settled for De Villiers) and along with Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson are the batsmen and captains to watch out for the next few years.
If I were to make a prediction it would be India wins 2-1.