True greatness awaits India in South Africa

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 08, 2017 12:41 hrs

After whitewashing Sri Lanka 3-0 in Tests in their lair and winning the home series, the focus now shifts to probably India's biggest Test challenge ever, the South Africa tour. If you think that is a bit of hyperbole, then it is not.

We have been No. 1 in the Test rankings in the past but we have never really been called an all-time great team. This time it's different. We are the top ranking team by a mile and that will not change no matter what happens in the ongoing Ashes between Australia and England.

South Africa is the No. 2 team and this is like a challenger taking on a champion in a heavyweight bout. If the Proteas whitewash us, then they can almost draw level with us and that would be a real downer.

However if we actually win, then the gulf between No. 1 and No. 2 would really widen. Add to the fact that we would have broken the jinx of in South Africa and Kohli's boys would be unarguably the greatest Indian Test team of all time and join other great global Test teams in the past.

That's how much is at stake here. If MS Dhoni is the greatest shortest format captain the world has ever seen, then Kohli would have taken a huge step forward in the five-day format leadership game.

So the simple question is whether we have the firepower. The short answer to that question is: Yes! Just remember the last series South African soil which was among our best batting performances.

In terms of Test batting averages on South African soil, we have: Ajinkya Rahane 69.7, Kohli 68 and Cheteshwar Pujara 44.4. That's a pretty reliable middle order.

Opener Murali Vijay had a forgettable tour last time, but he’s in fine form and he averages 60 on Australian soil and 40 in England so he has within him to come out on top in South Africa too. KL Rahul also has the talent to do well.

This is wicket keeper Wridhimman Saha's first South Africa tour, but he averaged 51.3 with the bat in the last tour of West Indies, so he can definitely play on faster pitches.

India have been spectacular in shutting out legendary spinners like Shane Warne and Muthiah Muralitharan in the past, but we have had mixed successes with our faster bowlers. But there are many heartening successes to fall back on.

Tearaway Aussie fast bowler Brett Lee gave more than 200 runs in a Test innings just once in his career. That was with India in the 2004 Sydney Test.

After the Monkeygate fiasco of 2007-08, the Aussies tried to intimidate us with four fast bowlers including a much hyped up tearaway Shaun Tait on a green pitch in Perth. He had match figures of 0-92 and retired in Tests after that.

Shoaib Akhtar in the past and Lasith Malinga recently are some of the quickie threats that have been totally hit out of the park by Indian batsmen. Even in the Sri Lanka series, in the first innings of the first Test, Suranga Lakmal went on the rampage and India was reeling at 79-6 at one stage. However in the second innings Lakmal struck only when the score was 192-1.

He followed that with figures of 0-111, 0-80 and 1-60 in the rest of the series.

Coming back to the South Africa tour of 2013, the lethal Dale Steyn had abysmal match figures of 1-165 in the first Test even though he did come back with a vengeance in the second.

Steyn looks to be making a Test comeback after a year and fast bowlers like Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada are still around from the last tour. We had neutralized them last time around.

But India would do well to be wary of newer fast bowlers like Wayne Parnell and Andile Phehlukwayo or whoever is picked for the series because India has an uncanny knack of collapsing when they face a bowler for the first time in a game.

Still, this time we have a fighting batting unit led by a fighting captain, so we have it within us to trump the South African fast bowling line-up.

When it comes to our department of quicker bowlers, we are going ahead with a whopping six this time: Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya and Jaspit Bumrah.

One struggles to think when we went ahead with so many non-spinners on a Test tour. When it comes to the lone spinner in the playing XI, both Sri Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin are in peak spinning form and can contribute quite a bit with a bat.

If our batsmen fire and the team management get the above bowling combination right, then this is our best chance of finally in South Africa.

If the Proteas win, then they’d be back on the road to No. 1.

But if India wins, Kohli's boys can lay claim to true greatness and they could further consolidate after that. Then we could set their sights on what would then be our final Test frontier: Australia.