Poring over reports about India's failings against South Africa in the recent one-day series, one cannot help but draw two different conclusions. 1) Green, bouncy wickets have always asked disconcerting questions to Indian batsmen. 2) Two matches is too short a time to judge a team's skills especially if they are up against the most menacing bowling attack after facing a facile West Indian attack on placid Indian tracks. As in many cases, the truth is somewhere in between.
Nevertheless India head into the Test series after a 0-2 scoreline in the ondedayers. For India, in many ways, this is the worst of times to be shorn of confidence for they are going to be pitted against the best team in the world in a format they have mastered. And the visitors cannot afford play the “slow-starters” card for there are only two Tests.
The team has won two Tests in South Africa in the post-apartheid era and Tests outside the subcontinent doesn't evoke pleasant memories for India since their last tour of South Africa. Only a passionate Virat Kohli emerged with his reputation enhanced during from the Australian soil. The batting order, for the first time in years, is without the experience of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
In a way this also gives them a chance to start afresh. The Indian middle-order will now constitute of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma and this series will give a give a glimpse of whether they have the heart to carry India on the shoulders over the next decade.
To their delight, Indian bowling attack on paper looks far more threatening than it did during the onedayers. More so, because of the return of India's bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan. Zaheer is one of the very few bowlers in world cricket along with Dale Steyn to have mastered the art of bowling with all the three balls.
“You have got to have the belief. And you have to back yourself and play good cricket. You need good days together. That was our success mantra then,” Zaheer said ahead of the warm-up game against South African Invitation XI.
Zaheer now has 295 wickets in 88 Tests, yet again reminding us why statistics is overrated. It was not a coincidence that India's ascent to the No.1 team in Test overlapped with his emergence as one of the finest pacers in the world.
Mohammad Shami was craving for support from the other end during the one-day series and with an opportunity to bowl with Zaheer in Tests, he cannot ask for more.
Ravi Ashwin is yet to prove himself as a spinner overseas. He has dismantled batting orders in the subcontinent and has even gathered 100 wickets in 19 Tests. Much of his success on the Protean soil will depend on how he can adapt to using the Duke ball.
“Of course, he has done it in the past. It’s not like we are putting any pressure on him. But he is indeed the leader of the bowling unit. There are no two ways about it. Zaheer bhai will add a lot of value to the team,” Ashwin said about Zaheer leading the attack.