Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally announced the squad for the much-awaited tour of South Africa. The squad contains 17 players and was on expected lines as there were no major surprises or shocks in store. India, the No 1 ranked Test side is currently playing fantastic cricket under the leadership of Virat Kohli and is on some sort of a winning spree, but the matches won by India comes with a caveat that most of the matches have been played in India and sub-continent and it begs a stern question can this team win overseas too?
The selectors and management while announcing the squad emphasised on continuity and consistency and it shows in the selection. The batsman pick themselves and the only thorny issue will be regarding the third opener and the decision will have to be made on it. Indian bowling after a long time is looking strong and impactful and the inclusion of Jaspirt Bumrah is a welcome addition. The selection committee abandon the idea of picking a third spinner (Kuldeep Yadav) and went with the tried and tested pair of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and considering the conditions in the rainbow city, it was a fair call. Kohli has stressed on this tour and the only teething issue is the preparation time ahead of this big important tour.
South Africa is a proud cricketing nation with rich legacy and tradition and are always a handful on their home turf. The team might not contain names such as Graeme Smith or Jacques Kallis, but are always a threat against any opponent they play irrespective of conditions. The team in recent times might have underperformed, but the likes of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock are a strong batting line up and the bowling attack will be led by young Kagiso Rabada and will be helped by Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn (fitness permitting). The team also has to meet its transformation targets (read: quota; where six players of colour in playing eleven on average and two must be black Africans).
Indian team has often been unfairly given the tag of ‘tigers at home and lambs abroad’ and this team is no different. Kohli will be determined to prove a point and the team is not short of class and panache and batsmen of the caliber of Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Kohli were all part of the previous tour (2013) and have a rather good record in overseas conditions. Proteas will be quite judicious and mindful in preparing green tracks considering India is not short of firepower in the pace department and the strategy of preparing helpful tracks might backfire. India has to guard against complacency and should be prepared to fight for their runs and wickets and remain positive in adverse situations. India has only won two matches in South Africa since readmission (Johannesburg, 2006; Durban, 2010) and has always found touring the African continent quite troublesome.
India in all fairness has a problem of plenty and the selections will be a headache considering the ammunition and firepower in the team. The balance also will have to be looked after and how to accommodate all-rounder Hardik Pandya will create some issues. At the moment in international cricket, all the teams are struggling away from home and singling out India smacks of hypocrisy. This tour might be the new chapter in Indian cricket and if the team rises to the challenge and wins its maiden series than India can truly be counted as a strong team on and off the field.
India’s likely XI vs South Africa, 1st Test, Cape Town:
1 Murali Vijay 2 Shikhar Dhawan 3 Cheteshwar Pujara 4 Virat Kohli (c) 5 Ajinkya Rahane 6 Rohit Sharma 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk) 8 Ravichandran Ashwin 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar 10 Mohammed Shami 11 Umesh Yadav