High-flying India, led by Virat Kohli, will eye history as they gear up to take on South Africa in the upcoming three-Test series, starting January 5 in Cape Town.
As far as the history and stats are concerned, the odds are stacked firmly against India. The visitors have managed to win just 2 of the 17 Tests they have played in South Africa since the first visit in 1992 and are yet to win a series on the African soil with the 1-1 result in 2010-11 being their best return.
However, the current Indian side has been tipped to spring a surprise or two. Virat Kohli & Co. have arrived in the African country full of confidence, having not lost a single series under their skipper. Kohli has led the team to a record nine series wins since the come from behind 2-1 win over Sri Lanka in 2015.
As a result, the team has been sitting at the top of the ICC rankings for well over a year now. Moreover, the visitors have all their bases covered coming into the series. Their fast-bowling department is considered by many as the best in the history of Indian cricket while their spin department is equally strong with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja leading the charge. The batsmen have also looked in brilliant form and can give the Proteas bowlers a lot to worry.
On the other hand, the hosts had indifferent outings in Tests last year. They were thrashed 3-1 by England before they dismantled Bangladesh and Zimbabwe at home to send a timely reminder to the visitors. They have also been boosted by the return of some big names like Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn.
Well, one will have to wait for the series to start to see how it pans out but there is no denying that the Indian team-management is currently busy plotting the downfall of the hosts and extend their winning run in the longest format of the game. So here we are taking a look at three strategies India captain Virat Kohli should use to start the series on a strong note.
3. Target the Proteas batsmen who are low on match practice:
Their skipper Faf du Plessis has not played any competitive game since the ODI series against Bangladesh in October due to a back injury. Moreover, with newcomer Aiden Markram set to open the innings, India with their formidable attack could make early inroads before putting pressure on the Proteas skipper. And in case, the hosts decide to include AB de Villiers in the playing eleven; then the visitors can bring him under pressure too as the former Proteas skipper will be playing his first five-day Test since the series against England in 2016.
What tilts the balance slightly in India’s favour is their spin attack. With South Africa’s middle-order looking low on game practice, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja can cause plenty of problems for them.
2. Attack the spinner:
South Africa are likely to include Keshav Maharaj as the sole specialist spinner in their playing eleven. The 26-year old looked in fine form in 2017, picking up 48 Test wickets from 11 Tests – the most in a calendar year for a South African spinner. However, with the South Africa spinner relatively new to the international circuit and the Indian players known for their ability to play spin well, Kohli & Co. will be keen to put Maharaj under pressure right from the word go.
Putting Maharaj under pressure can also put pressure on the pacers as they will have to bowl longer spells in case the spinner is taken out from the attack.
1. Play an extra batsman:
One of the features of Virat Kohli’s captaincy has been the five-bowler strategy, and so far it has paid off. The lower order has done exceedingly well in the last couple of years, making it quite tough for the team-management to tinker with the idea. India averaged a very impressive 34.52 per stand for Nos. 6 to 9 since April 2015 with the help of nine century and 23 half-century partnerships.
However, with conditions in South Africa likely to be bowling friendly, Kohli cannot ill afford playing with the same strategy. When India toured South Africa in 2014, they lost their last five wickets for 16 and 14 runs at Johannesburg and Durban respectively. Moreover, the way Indian batsmen struggled at a bowling friendly Eden Gardens track against Sri Lanka recently, the team-management should play one extra batsman in the first Test. The in-form Rohit Sharma can be the one who can provide the solidarity to the lower order in the tough conditions.