It’s been 21 years since the return of South Africa to International Cricket. Following decades of boycott due to apartheid, their return to International Cricket started with the Indian Cricket Team touring the country in 1992, on what became a truly historic tour, with India also becoming the first non-white country to tour South Africa in any sport. Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, the return of the African National Congress, the establishment of a multi-racial democracy and emotional links with its large Indian population all boosted the possibility of restoring relations with India, & also bringing an end to the country’s sporting isolation in 1991-92.
No wonder,the series was named “Friendship Series”, and the maiden match of the series was held in Durban, which had a huge Indian diaspora.
Since then, the cricketing ties between both the teams, & their cricketing boards as well, has come a long way.
While the relationship between the teams has only bloomed in the true competitive spirit, the relationship between the cricketing boards, viz, the BCCI & the CSA, has experienced an entire roller-coaster of a ride. From the highs of the Friendship series, to the lows of the 2001 ball-tampering scandal, again to the highs of BCCI naming the second edition of the IPL in South Africa by the BCCI and CSA inviting India for a specially held T20 match held for the farewell of Makhaya Ntini, the lowest shake of the roller-coaster was when BCCI shortened the India’s ongoing tour of South Africa from 5 ODIs and 3 Tests to 3 ODIs and 2 Tests for its financial benefits, making Haroon Lorgat it’s scapegoat.
However, this current lot of Indian men on the SA shores is very different from the previous team that toured the country 2 years ago. From the team that toured in 2010-11, there is an absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVs Laxman, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Sreesanth to name the major ones. That is, an Indian Team without an experience of 56 test matches in South Africa, well that’s quite a lot of experience & quality to miss out on!
Sachin, VVS & Gambhir in particular had a massive impact with the bat in India’s previous tour & almost all the team runs in the 3 matches of the tour were build in the partnerships around these 3. Sreesanth’s absence will also be a huge loss, since his beautiful seam position, extra bounce off the deck & the lateral movement in SA always is a tough task to face as a batsman. Bhajji in the previous tour took a wonderful 4/10 in Durban, that led to an uncharacteristic SA collapse to 136 in the first innings, which was one of the major reasons we were able to square the series. His drift off his wrist spin & experience will be missed.
A list of top 10 batsmen for India in South Africa
A list of top 10 bowlers for India in South Africa
The current team is very young, in comparision with the previous team, where we have Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha & Pragyan Ojha; that is 12 out of the 17 players of the squad who haven’t played a test match in South Africa, that’s how young the squad is! While all of the 12 of them have been promising, it will be a challenge for them to adapt to different nature of the pitches here, where the Johannesberg wicket is expected be green & bouncy,& Durban is expected to be a hard & true wicket.
Zaheer’s comeback should be a massive boost, both in terms of team strength & experience. Him, along with the skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be the ones providing their experience to this young unit, along with coach Duncan Fletcher.
However, among the young guns, Shami is expected to do well, given his raw pace, along with his excellent seam position, nippy in-swing & bowling IQ being his other arsenals. His bowling will suit the bowling conditions. The bowling line-up for the final XI will be a big dillema of a selection for the team management, given that there are 7 bowlers & 1 all-rounder in the 17-member squad. Whether Dhoni goes with a four-prong or a five-prong bowling attack will be a question whose answer will only be known only on the maiden day of the test series.
In the previous 2 tours of South Africa, India has always lost the first test match, then won the second test match where they finally became more comfortable with the conditions, & then third test match has been a tight contest. In this shortened two test match series however, as stated above, there is complete inexperience amongst the entire batting line-up, barring Dhoni.
And if we look on the other side of the contest, South Africa is playing with their best-ever test XI, which has the best test batsman in the world according to the ICC rankings (The 2nd best batsman as well!) and the best test bowler in the world, who has been Number 1 in the list since 2008 mind you! (well again, the 2nd best bowler as well!) ,and every department of their team is very well settled and clicking and its Johannesburg for the first test, which is the arena that goes with the South African team-combination and playing style, and there record in Johannesburg speaks of that.
To add to that, after India’s 0-2 drubbing in the ODI series, India’s sole scheduled 2-day practice match in Benoni was called off thanks to rain. So that makes the inexperienced players devoid of match practice in these conditions. Thus, it is hard to practicalize India not losing the first test. But we never know with Cricket, it always has its own bag of surprises. However, the Durban test is expected to be more competitive, taking into account South Africa’s poor recent record there.
India Test squad: MS Dhoni (capt & wk), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha
South Africa Test squad: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile (wk)