The four-match Test series between India and South Africa starts on Thursday in Mohali, with Virat Kohli-captained team’s backs firmly against the wall – in more than one sense.
First and foremost is the fact that India go into the Test series after having lost both the T20 and One-day International series against South Africa, and thus would perhaps be down a bit.
India’s Team Director Ravi Shastri chooses to call them ‘close’ series, but the way the Proteas played they looked far better than India. Importantly, they beat India while playing in India, away from their home.
The second is that history is against the Indian team – and favours South Africa. The visitors have not lost a series in India for 19 years, since 1996. Moreover, Hashim Amla’s team is on a psychological high after the T20 and ODI series wins.
India, on the other hand, will have to regroup quickly, forget the immediate past, and compete in the five-day Test matches – a format that is expected to provide a more level playing field for both teams than the over-specific shorter formats.
There is another factor, too. And that is the ICC rankings. The South African players will have at the back of their minds this comforting thought that they are the No.1 team on the ICC ladder. This, however, would not help on the field of play, as only performances of the day count.
India are fifth on the ICC rankings table. The problem with Kohli’s team is that even if they blank South Africa 4-0, they wouldn’t be able to overtake the Proteas. In that situation, India would only have to content with the second position, according to the International Cricket Council, which owns the rankings. If India thrash South Africa 4-0, both teams would then have 112 points. But when the points are calculated by fraction of a point, South Africa would nose ahead.
Currently, South Africa are at No.1 position with 125 rating points and India are at No.5 with 100.
On the field of play, spinners are expected to dominate at the IS Bindra Stadium, which was many years ago known to assist pacers, thanks to its lively pitch and the helpful surroundings for fast bowlers.
With pace spearhead Ishant Sharma suspended for one Test by the ICC, India are expected to include off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who missed the last four ODIs with a side strain he suffered in the opening game in Kanpur, Ravindra Jadeja and leg-spinner Amit Mishra.
South Africa have a solid batting line-up, and they roved their worth in the T20 and ODI series by putting up tall totals. They key batsmen include Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, and Stiaan van Zyl.