The much-anticipated Test series between India and South Africa begins at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday, 5 January.
The series will see the two best teams in the five-day format come up against each other; India are ranked number one in the ICC Test rankings, while hosts South Africa are ranked a distant second.
Both teams have had plenty of success in recent times and their recent form promises a mouth-watering contest. Since losing the Freedom Test series in India at the fag end of 2015, South Africa have won 12 of the 22 Tests they’ve played and won 6 of the 8 Test series they’ve competed in. Their opponents, Team India haven’t lost a Test series since Virat Kohli was appointed regular captain in June 2015; the Indian team drew the one-off Test series against Bangladesh, and have since won 9 consecutive Test series.
Popular sentiment – particularly among cricket followers outside India – is that India are sitting atop the ICC Test rankings primarily because of their domination at home and because of frequently playing against weaker teams like Sri Lanka and West Indies. The scenario is not too different with South Africa too; a lot of their recent success has been against the not-so-formidable teams.
Against the top-notch teams, where India have a 9-1 win-loss record, South Africa have won 6, lost 5 and drawn 4. Against the lesser-fancied teams – which include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies & Zimbabwe, both teams haven’t lost a Test; where South Africa have a 100 percent win record, India have won 7 and drawn 4.
Despite what the numbers say, one will have to respect that South Africa begin as favourites, for one primary factor: conditions. South Africa has always presented a challenge to touring Indian sides; they have to adapt to the pace and bounce in the pitches, the movement of the ball in the air and off the surface, and the frequently-changing overhead conditions. The Kookaburra ball too presents bowlers with a unique set of challenges.
The squad that South Africa have named for the first Test has several players who featured in the 3-0 defeat to India in India. But this time around, playing in their backyard, the same set of players will play like they’ve just had a shot in the arm. From looking as if they were ‘out of place’ and appearing as if they were ‘only physically present’ in the Test series in India, the same players will suddenly appear competitive. Familiarity of conditions can do that.
While history indicates that India have not won a Test series in South Africa, their record – especially on recent tours – isn’t that bad. Team India has won or drawn at least one Test on each of the last three tours of the Rainbow Nation.
Several of the players who featured in the 2013-14 Test series are part of the Indian squad currently in South Africa. And one expects, all of them will be able to draw on their past experiences of playing in South Africa. Team India, supremely confident from their recent showings, can also draw inspiration from the fact that they were able to pull off draws in their most recent visits to Cape Town and Johannesburg – where they will be playing on this tour.
Come 5 January, when the first Test begins at the Newlands, one can expect that the Indian players will take the field brimming with confidence and play with an aggressive attitude. If, courtesy their aggressive attitude, they win the first Test, there’s a good chance we might see India win their first-ever Test series in South Africa. Predicting along the same lines, if the hosts win the Cape Town Test, chances are they will go on to win the series.