Team India has been preparing for the South Africa tour for a few months now. In fact, the whole home series against the Sri Lankans was little more than a glorified warm-up for the challenges they expected in the Rainbow Nation. Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and the think tank have been talking a good game for a long time, but on Wednesday, Vernon Philander said it was time to walk the walk. The burly seamer made light of India’s recent dominant run, which came mostly in familiar conditions, implying the toughest tests were yet to come. “They have played most of their games at home, so it’ll be interesting to see how they go in South Africa. It’s a total different ball game. We’re going to have to wait and see once they pass the first Test match,” Philander threw down the gauntlet two days before the series opener at Newlands.
Facing a team full of superstars could be daunting for many, and the Lankans seemed overawed on more than one occasion by the cricketing royals they faced, but the South Africans seem intent on ‘de-humanising’ the opposition. “We play the ball and not the man,” Philander said.
Philander also took a dig at the Indians’ preparation. Foregoing practice matches altogether, Kohli & Co. have been busy with net sessions replicating the conditions they expect to face when the battle begins. “(Laughs)… you are obviously playing at Newlands and you probably are going to (be) nicked off more times then being bounced off. But look, there is a bit of grass on it and everybody is talking about having a bit of pace on it,” the 47-Test veteran with an enviable bowling average of 22.37 pointed out.
South Africa’s scarcely believable away record—they did not lose an away series for nine years— came to an end on the tailor-made Indian dustbowls in India in 2015, and Philander made little secret that the Proteas want to get their own back on home turf. “If we want to play the best cricket, we have to go to do that in every series we participate in. (The year) 2015 was obviously a disappointing one losing to them. But look, at the end of the day we want to make sure we play our best cricket, and obviously being at home we want to make sure we deliver.”
With a lot of focus on the Newlands strip, on which Australia once folded for 47, Philander believes it will be as much about the weather as it would be about what is underfoot. “I have played all my life here. I’ve seen a lot of similar wickets and they haven’t done much. Obviously, there’s a little bit of grass there but I don’t think it’s going to scare anyone. I think by the time the Test match starts, it’ll be a little drier. The wicket changes quite quickly here. Depends on the type of wind that blows here as well. By Friday morning, it’ll be a total different-looking wicket.
“You might get days, there is grass but it’s absolutely flat. You get some days, the North-Western blows and the ball goes around the park when there’s not much grass on there,” he felt.