Such is the aura of invincibility India built in 2017 that one could bet on their victory before the start of a series and come away with the winnings on a daily basis. They played 11 Tests in this period, won nine and lost just one – which came against Australia in Pune. In this period South Africa, who India face on January 5 in the first of a three-match Test series, played 12 matches and won seven and lost three. Unlike India though, South Africa played two series away from home and all their losses have come in England. They have also managed to beat New Zealand in their own backyard.
It is this particular statistic that brings an air of uncertainty for India before this series, something that has been absent over the past year. Their record in Test matches in South Africa is not an encouraging one either. They have played 17 Test matches thus far away against the Proteas since the latter’s return to international cricket, lost eight and won just two. South Africa’s losses last year have all come in their series in England and even in that rubber, they managed to win one match.
The last time India toured South Africa was in circumstances similar to those they find themselves in now. They had embarked on that tour in December 2013 and before that, they crushed New Zealand 2-0, Australia 4-0 and West Indies 2-0 at home. India put up a good show in the first Test, matching South Africa on every step and drawing the match. But the second match, which was also a farewell for Jacques Kallis, was a 10-wicket drubbing for India. This set the tone for the rest of the away series that they undertook. They went on to lose a two-Test series in New Zealand 1-0, a five-match match series in England 3-1 and a four-match series in Australia 2-0. After series of failures away from home, MS Dhoni announced retirement from Test cricket during the Australia tour and handed over the baton to Virat Kohli.
One gets a sense, though, that this might be the best chance that India have to make amends for their failures away from home this decade, particularly in the longest format of the game. Kohli and co. displayed ominous form in the way they ran over almost any side that came their way in subcontinental conditions.