Avid India fan and Bharat Army member Abhishek Talwar gives his preview on the upcoming India V South Africa Series:
A new era for Indian cricket begins on December 5th, the post Tendulkar era. MS Dhoni’s fresh looking Indian side will embark on a shortened, revised scheduled tour of South Africa, consisting of 3 ODI’s and 2 Tests. This will be much to the dismay of a significantly large portion of the Indian fans, who I’m sure will have been hoping to see a series including 3 Test matches at the very least. Disputes between the BCCI and Haroon Lorgat have been a big obstacle in the build up to the series and at one point the entire series was looking like it could be totally off the cards. Taking that into consideration, I am pleased there is at least some cricket to look forward to, even if it is just 2 Tests.
The rankings don’t always tell a true story, but with regards to where these two teams are ranked, I think they paint a fairly accurate picture at the moment. It is difficult to argue against South Africa being ranked number 1 in the world in Tests at the moment. All they are really lacking is a proven world class spinner. Handing them that dimension would make them a near unstoppable force. With a near complete squad in terms of quality, in home conditions, there is no doubt South Africa will be starting as huge favourites to win the Test series, especially against a relatively inexperienced Indian test side which is still finding itself. With the decline in the last few years of Australia as the single dominant force in the game, nowadays going to play a series away in South Africa is the truest test of where a team is at and I think right now is as good a time as any for India to assess where they are at as a test outfit. This will certainly be the biggest challenge India have faced in a long while, possibly since the last tour of Australia. We all know how that series ended, but I feel India have improved and grown as a team since then. Equally the series will act as good preparation for a longer one away in England next summer. It will no doubt be a real tough series for India and if the team can conjure up a victory in one of the two test matches, it will be some achievement considering how good South Africa are on home soil and how tough India have found away tours in recent history.
Amla and Kohli are the two standout players for either side, and will no doubt be the prize wickets. The departure of Tendulkar from the side means that Kohli is set to take up a long term position 4 with Rohit moving up to 5 and chance for Rahane to come in at 6. Rahane has been on the fringes of the Indian side for a while now and I feel he can play a part in all formats of the game going forward. He likes the ball coming on to the bat, which equips him well for the quicker, bouncier tracks India are likely to come up against. I am however worried about how Vijay will fair opening the innings against a dangerous Dale Steyn who is the best fast bowler around world cricket. The moving ball early on might just highlight Vijay’s weaknesses as a batsman and I think Pujara might be coming to the crease a lot earlier than most of us would like. Despite missing a quality spinner, South Africa have a wealth of high quality seamers to call upon. There will be no respite for the Indian batsmen, who are likely to be asked a lot of questions by Philander and Morkel once Steyn’s bursts are through. India’s attack has been bolstered by the return of Zaheer, who has been India’s most potent weapon over the last ten years with the red cherry. It has been good to see Zaheer respond to him being left out of the side. He has gone away and worked really hard at his fitness, and comes back into the fold in much better physical condition. With Ishant being off the boil recently, the Indians need somebody to lead the attack, and Zaheer’s experience along with his ability to reverse swing the ball will serve the team well here, and the likes of Bhuvneshwar, Yadav and the impressive Shami can all be guided positively by Zaheer on and off the field in this series. I also feel this is an important series for Ashwin, who will need to offer India something with the bat as well as tying up an end with the ball. His height will help him extract bounce as well as some turn. MS Dhoni’s test captaincy will also be under watch, and I hope he will prove he has learnt to be more proactive in his plans and silence any chatter that he just doesn’t care about Tests as much as ODI’s. The key question will be whether India’s young batting line up has the technique to cope with the sheer quality of South Africa’s fast bowlers on decks which suit them and this is going to be where the series is decided for me. It will surely be a tough task for the Indian batsmen, and this probably justifies South Africa as favourites going into the Tests.
Looking to the ODI department, India are sitting pretty at the top of the ICC rankings, and deservedly so. The team’s confidence in the one day arena is sky high, especially off the back of an ICC Champions Trophy win in the English summer, and convincing batting displays in the recent series against Australia and West Indies at home.
Rohit has a found a new lease of life at the top of the order, finally showing everyone the talents we all knew he possessed. Kohli and Dhawan also found themselves in formidable form, scoring runs with consummate ease. However, the downside was that this excellent batting helped make up for some pretty ordinary bowling displays, which seems to have a theme for many years now anyway. The lack of batting time the middle order have had recently may see Raina in particular in for another tough overseas series. I am though, pleased to see Mohit Sharma included and Umesh Yadav back into the squad for Vinay Kumar, who has lacked consistency ever since he began his international career. Mohit Sharma, Yadav and Bhuvneshwar have the makings of an exciting trio which can exploit the South African conditions to good effect as well as keeping it tight at the death of an innings. The Indian bowlers won’t find things too much easier against deVilliers, Miller and company, and having to face the likes of Steyn and Tsotsobe, the batsmen will certainly find their tasks more challenging this time around too. But having said that, I just feel the ODI side is looking a lot more settled, looking energetic in the field and are playing with supreme confidence under Dhoni’s leadership, especially with the bat, so I expect the ODI series to be much more closely fought than the test series and see no reason why India can’t come out on top in these ODI’s. Quinton de Kock is a player I think could have quite an impact for the South African’s in this format; we’ve seen a bit of him in the IPL, and he looks another exciting talent. I’ll certainly be watching with an eager eye when the ODI’s kick off in a few days in Johannesburg.