VISAKHAPATNAM: 1995-96: 1-2. 1999-00: 2-0. 2004-05: 0-1. 2007-08: 1-1. 2009-10: 1-1. 2015-16: 0-3
Since their readmission to cricket, South Africa have visited India six times for Test tours. They won in 1999 and on two trips against possibly the best Indian side, they shared the trophy.
It was only in 2015, in Virat Kohli’s first Test series as captain at home, that they flew across the Indian Ocean with scars that still exist on a few of their players.
In both the drawn series where they had taken an early lead, one man had done all the talking. Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla made runs, but it was Dale Steyn with the new ball in Ahmedabad and with the old one in Nagpur who burnt bright.
While visiting teams in India generally bank on spinners, South Africa always trusted their strength – fast bowlers.
Steyn is gone now, enjoying a retired life. The responsibility he shouldered lies on the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. But unlike tours of the past, South Africa are not pinning hopes on pace this time.
For a change, they have a world-class spinner in Keshav Maharaj, a left-armer who can extract turn and bounce.
Unlike Paul Harris or some of the others, he isn’t in the side to play the containing role. Even under Ottis Gibson’s coaching when South Africa relied on pace, Maharaj had the licence to attack. Last year in Colombo, bowling first he picked up nine wickets in the first innings.
Maharaj arrives in India with his reputation intact. Though their batting is weak, if Maharaj and Dane Piedt can do their bit alongside Rabada and Ngidi, South Africa might be able to push the hosts. Maharaj is already hailed as the best spinner to come out of the Rainbow Nation since readmission, but he is not reading much into it. “I don’t think I’m the best yet. You can judge after the Test series,” he said.
Maybe he is trying to stay humble, but something else may also be going through his mind. While some have benefited from square turners, the likes of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan found it tough on true Indian surfaces that South Africa are likely to encounter this time. Much of it has to do with handling SG balls, something that spinners from other parts of the world are not used to.
“It’s a lot different with the Kookaburra. Still getting used to it. It does get softer a little bit quicker, but we still have to find a way to get through that. If you look at Jadeja and Ashwin, Ashwin has a lot of variations. Jadeja is fairly simple. But the key is his consistency and making it uncomfortable for the batters,” Maharaj said.
It is to be seen how much of a contest the series produces, but one thing is for sure. Maharaj versus Jadeja might be a duel to relish.