NEW DELHI: The 1-0 win against Sri Lanka was Virat Kohli’s team’s ninth consecutive Test series win, equalling Australia. When Kohli walks out for the toss at Cape Town on December 5, it will be exactly two years since he led his side in any country apart from the subcontinent and West Indies.
On the basis of what has been seen, it will take this bunch a lot more than they have done in the last two years to overtake Australia’s record in South Africa. India treated the series against Sri Lanka as preparation for South Africa. But apart from the first Test, conditions were mostly what they have grown up in.
This side is ambitious, just like the ones led by Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. MS Dhoni’s side before 2011 too was ambitious. To an extent, all these teams did something noteworthy overseas. The time has come for Kohli’s team. Now on, they will be judged by how they perform in challenging conditions abroad. Not that India have won only in conditions that suit them. But performance as a team dipped when they toured South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia starting from 2013-14.
The bounce in South Africa is likely to be very different from what they got when they won those nine series in succession. But there is a stream of thought in this lot that this is their best chance to do what no Indian team has done before. South Africa’s lean run — they lost at home to England — and their batting frailties have made this Indian team believe. So much so that even a quiet player like Cheteshwar Pujara is also looking to exposing some of their vulnerabilities.
“I think we’ll be well prepared before we head to South Africa and the guys have already started talking about things we want to work on. Some guys are having enough time to prepare. Another thing we have is enough experience. I went to South Africa in 2010 and 2013. Many of this team were there in 2013. Other than that, the fast bowling unit is much better. They will do a lot of damage. There’s a difference between what South Africa’s batting used to be and what it is now,” the leading Test run-scorer of 2017 said.
Like Pujara said, the fast-bowling unit is the source of confidence. Five specialist pacers plus all-rounder Hardik Pandya is a good pool to choose from. As Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami showed, they can create opportunities even on a flat deck. Like picking two openers from three, the think-tank will have lots to ponder when it comes to finalising the pace combination too.
For all their fast bowling potential and the number of opportunities these bowlers create, India can’t afford a repeat of their slip-catching performances at Kotla, which to an extent helped Sri Lanka get away with a draw.
Himself a part of the slip cordon, Pujara admitted this is an area India have to work on and revealed there is already talk in the dressing room about it. “To be honest, we have not fielded well and I accept that. At the same time, there have been injuries where openers have missed out. Someone like M Vijay, who used to be at first slip, didn’t play for six months. So we had to replace him. We will surely be assigning the duty to a few players during the away series. Ajinkya has been fielding at gully for a long time. He is set, we can’t keep changing fielders,” he said.