Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket is about to commence their toughest challenge yet. The team has won nine Test series on the trot but the upcoming three-Test rubber against South Africa will test their abilities. India don’t enjoy a good record in this part of the world and would be looking to register a series win for the first time.
In 6 tours to South Africa since 1992, India have not won a single series, but according to cricketing pundits, it is their best chance ever to do so. There are plenty of faces in this Indian squad who have toured South Africa in the past and have an idea about the conditions. Before the team takes field for the opening Test, here’s a look at how members of this squad have performed in South Africa in the past.
Virat Kohli (c): Indian skipper Virat Kohli travelled to South Africa back in 2013 when India suffered a 1-0 defeat in the two-match Test series. In the two matches at Durban and Johannesburg, he went on to record an average of 68.00 in the longest format, on the back of a century and a fifty. He was also awarded the Man-of-the-Match for his performance in the first Test at Johannesburg which ended in a stalemate. In 4 innings, he has scored 272 runs.
Murali Vijay: India’s opening batsman Murali Vijay is one of the more experienced players in the squad for India and has been on two tours to South Africa – in 2010 and 2013. In his first tour, he only played a single match in which he failed to perform and scored 19 and 9 in the two innings. In 6 innings in the country, the right-hand batsman has scored just 176 runs at an average of 29.33 with just one fifty which came in the Durban Test in 2013, which India went on to lose.
Shikhar Dhawan: India’s other opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan, who travelled to South Africa in 2013, had a poor showing the last time. In 2 Tests, the left-handed batsman scored just 76 runs at an average of 76 runs, with an innings of 29 runs being his highest. In spite of being in red-hot form in recent time, it is likely Dhawan will be rested in the first Test to make way for India’s third opening batsman KL Rahul.
Lokesh Rahul: KL Rahul, who has never played before on South African pitches, and in fact, has never faced the opposition, could get his first shot in the first Test in Cape Town. In a span of two years, Rahul has risen among the ranks and is enjoying a healthy average of 44.62 in the format with 4 centuries and 10 fifties. Because of his consistency, he might get a push ahead of a more experienced Shikhar Dhawan.
Cheteshwar Pujara: Cheteshwar Pujara is yet another experienced campaigner for India in the tour. He has been part of two tours to South Africa, in 2010 and 2013, and has played 4 Tests in the country. In 7 innings, Pujara has scored 311 runs at an average of 44.42, which includes a 150-runs innings at Johannesburg in 2013. He also went on to score 70 runs in the 1st innings of the second Test in the series at Durban. His overseas record guarantees him a spot in the series and he is likely to be India’s main player with the bat along with the skipper.
Ajinkya Rahane: Ajinkya Rahane, who had a forgettable series against Sri Lanka last month, could prove to be an asset for India. He was excellent during India’s tour of South Africa in 2013 and has the best average of all Indian batsmen. In 4 innings, Rahane scored 209 runs on fast and bouncy pitches in the country, at an average of 69.66. He has also scored two fifties in the country, which came in the second Test during 2013 tour at Durban.
Rohit Sharma: Rohit Sharma, who is still trying to establish himself as a regular Test cricketer had a disastrous tour back in 2013. His average of 11.25 in 4 innings came with scores of 14, 6, 0 and 25. He just managed to score a total of 45 runs in the series and particularly struggled on bouncy tracks. The upcoming series could provide him a chance to redeem the forgettable visit of 2013.
Hardik Pandya: This is India all-rounder Hardik Pandya’s first visit to South Africa. He has only played 3 Tests so far and is an inexperienced player of the format. But his performance against Sri Lanka, in away conditions, in which he scored a half century and a ton, and took 4 wickets, has led to his inclusion in the squad. With India looking to boost its bowling attack, Pandya might get a chance to feature in the first Test at Cape Town.
Wriddhiman Saha: India wicket-keeping batsman Wriddhiman Saha has travelled to South Africa twice but has never been part of the playing XI with former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni keeping stumps. He was part of the team in 2010 and 2013 but did not play a single match. Now he is India’s first wicketkeeper choice and will get a shot to prove himself behind wickets and also with the bat in tough conditions.
Ravichandran Ashwin: Ravichandran Ashwin is likely to be India’s first spin choice in the team, but he has not had a great time in the country during previous tours. The off-break bowler was included in the squad for the 2013 tour but played only one of the two Tests and failed to get a single wicket. In 42 overs he bowled in the two innings in Johannesburg, the bowler gave 108 runs. Over the years, he has established himself as a proper all-rounder, but the last time he did not prove much useful with the bat either. He scored just 18 runs in two innings at an average of 18.
Ravindra Jadeja: Ashwin’s counterpart, Ravindra Jadeja, on the other hand, a terrific time in South Africa the last time he visited the country in 2013. The left-arm spinner took 6 wickets in the first innings in Durban in spite of India losing the match. His average of 25.66 looks decent on pitches that do not generally support spin bowling. In two innings, Jadeja scored 8 runs with the bat, but with India now looking at him as an all-rounder, he will be required to contribute with the bat as well.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar: This will be Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s second tour to South Africa. He was part of the squad when India visited the country back in 2013, but he was not included in the playing XI in the two Tests. But this time, he is likely to spearhead India’s fast bowling attack along with Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. With Kumar gaining pace over time, he can prove lethal on South African pitches and India will hope he can justify his selection in the team.
Mohammed Shami: Mohammed Shami looks to be one of India’s most experienced bowler with the right-armer having the experience of playing two Tests in the country. Shami played both the matches when India visited the country back in 2013. He took 6 wickets in 4 innings at an average of 43.83 but could have done better considering the pitches at Durban and Johannesburg suited his strengths.
Ishant Sharma: Ishant Sharma is the most experienced bowler in India’s arsenal, in terms of the experience of playing in South Africa. The right-armer featured in 2010 and 2013 tours and has played 5 Tests for India in the country. In 9 innings, Sharma has taken 12 wickets at an average of 54.16. The bowler, who made his mark for India with his performance against Australia in overseas conditions, could once again show his talent on fast and bouncy pitches in the country and improve his average.
Umesh Yadav: Just like Saha, Umesh Yadav was also included in the squad for Test series in 2010 and 2013, but he did not get a chance to be included in the playing XI. In terms of speed, the right-handed bowler is India’s fastest bowler and he could see himself selected over Mohammed Shami in the first Test on that basis. It is a chance for him to play his first Test in the country and he needs to be at his wicket-taking best to help India’s cause.
Parthiv Patel: It is the first-time Parthiv Patel will be visiting South Africa for a tour. He will be going as the reserve wicketkeeper for the side, and unless Saha develops an injury, it is highly unlikely Patel will get a chance to be included in the playing XI.
Jasprit Bumrah: Jasprit Bumrah, who has grown to be one of the best bowlers for India in limited-overs cricket, was included in the squad for the series against South Africa. Bumrah has never played a single Test but with India looking to play four seamers, he might get his maiden Test cap in Cape Town on January 5.
Who will India miss in the series?
It is hard to keep Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar away from any record list and a look at batting records reveal that he is the top scorer for India in South Africa over the years. In 28 innings, Tendulkar has scored 1161 runs at an average of 46.44. He last played a Test in South Africa in January 2013 in Cape Town in which he scored 146 runs in the first innings.
Meanwhile, in terms of bowling, it is Anil Kumble, who is the leading wicket-taker for the side, in spite of the pitch supporting fast bowlers. The spinner took 45 wickets in 24 innings in the country at an average of 32.02. His last Test in the country came in January 2007 in Cape Town, in which he took 5 wickets in the two innings.