The South Africans arrive in India in late September for a 72-day long tour to play 3 T20 matches, 5 ODIs and 4 test matches. For the Proteas, it will be the longest tour to India that runs until December 2015. After India bounced back from the 0-1 test deficit against Sri Lanka recently, Ravi Shastri was reappointed as Team Director for the Indian cricket team. In a media press conference two days ago, Shastri spoke about the need for exercising patience to succeed against South Africa. He added that the key lies in consistency but insisted that the style will not change. If he meant that India would go ahead with the 5-bowler strategy then Shastri may not be entirely right. Shastri further stated that India should endeavor to prevent the opposition from getting scot-free after early breakthroughs. He said sustained patience will be required to pressurize South Africa. However, that is easier said than done in modern cricket and Shastri’s statement looked like emanating from the manner, in which Dinesh Chandimal’s heroics stole the victory from India in the first Galle test against Sri Lanka after India dominated proceeding over the first three days. It is true that Indian bowlers took 60 wickets in 6 test innings against Sri Lanka but South Africa will be a different cup of tea. Shastri must be fully aware that as the world’s no.1 team in test cricket, South Africa would be vastly different from Sri Lanka in all-round strength. Regardless of the fact that India plays on home turf, the Proteas will be the cut above the rest and an altogether different strategy will have to be worked out. On long assignments, Indian players have been known to suffer from match fatigue. AB de Villiers returns to the South African squad as captain in the ODIs but Hashim Amla will be the skipper for tests. The second Test in Bangalore, beginning on November 14 will be AB de Villiers’ 100th test. Incidentally, de Villiers is not playing in the ongoing Test series against Bangladesh.
South Africa’s tour begins with a warm-up T20 game in Delhi on September 29, before the first of the T20 matches is played in Dharamsala on October 2. That follows the second T20 at Cuttack on October 5 and the third at Kolkata on October 8. Three days later, the 5-match ODI series will be played between October 11 and 25 at Kanpur, Indore, Rajkot, Chennai and Mumbai. There will be several other fixtures for South Africa, including a two-day match against the Board President’s XI at Mumbai before the start of the first Test in Mohali on November 5. The remaining Tests will be played in Bangalore, Nagpur and Delhi.
Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli obviously have their main focus on the 4-match test-series and therefore, the 30-member preparatory training camp scheduled in Bangalore during September 21 to 27 assumes importance. Cricket manager will try to determine the right mix of players for the test series. The training participants are the core of the Indian team along with some fringe players who have already tasted international cricket. Karun Nair is the only uncapped player although he traveled to Sri Lanka. Wriddhiman Saha and Murali Vijay, who had to return home after the second test; are also participating. Among others; the camp will also see Ravindra Jadeja, Naman Ojha, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina, Varun Aaron Pragyan Ojha and Axar Patel. Harbhajan Singh has also been included to signify that the veteran spinner is still on the selectors’ radar.
One issue that Shastri faces is the composition of India’s batting line-up. After Vijay’s injury, Shikhar Dhawan has been playing with multiple partners with divergent results. Cheteshwar Pujara and Lokesh Rahul both had limited success as openers. If M Vijay attains full fitness, then he would solve one problem. Another concern is Virat Kohli himself. He needs to curb his temptation of poking away going deliveries, a tactic that had often cost him his wicket. South Africa has the classiest bowlers and as Shastri rightly pointed out Tendulkar-like patience will be the key. India would also need to fix the batting order rather than juggling for nos. 3, 4 and 5 spots. Ajinkya Rahane can do more justice at no.4 or no.5. Rohit Sharma also has to be pegged properly to deliver his best. Maybe Suresh Raina should get another chance. Ishant Sharma will not be playing the first test since he is serving a one-test ban slapped on him during the third test at Colombo but Mohammed Shami has been recalled after he reported fit after the recent surgery. Umesh Yadav was quite effective at Sri Lanka. Ravichndran Ashwin is the lead spinner and he can find support from other spinners in the team, whoever they are. Indian team, however, must closely examine the strengths of the South Africans. With batsmen like Hashim Amla, de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar supported by the bowling spearheaded by Dale Styen, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt and Imran Tahir, it may not be easy for India, whatever Shastri says or Kohli feels.