Reality check beckons for Virat Kohli’s India vs South Africa on Newlands pitch
Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket team, which is on a high after success at home, will now have to prove themselves against South Africa at Newlands Stadium, where the first Test of a three-match series starts from Friday. The conditions are likely to assist bounce and paceUpdated: Jan 04, 2018 22:20 IST
Forget rankings, you know this could be a good Test rubber when the teams match each other in almost every department. Having come off easy victories, India and South Africa square off in a slightly delayed New Year’s Test at the Newlands stadium to kick off a year that should decide Virat Kohli’s place in the annals of Indian cricket history.
Kohli’s India has 12 Tests — against South Africa, England and Australia — to prove they are worth the hype. With three specialist openers, a middle order that is slowly building its own legacy, one of the fittest wicketkeepers of all time, seamers who have delivered overseas and the world’s top two spinners, India give vibes of a well-rounded team. But they would be well-advised to get ahead of themselves even before the battle’s begun.
The last time there was a sense India could break the hoodoo they lost 8-0 in England and Australia in 2011-12. N Srinivasan blocked MS Dhoni’s removal from captaincy but Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman retired almost promptly to spark a transition that gave us a skilled but youthful team desperate to walk the talk.
It will be far from easy though. South Africa are still licking the wounds sustained in a calamitous 3-0 loss in India three years back that snatched the No 1 status from them. So, with the help of an industrious curator in Evan Flint, South Africa are trying to prepare a pitch that will return the hospitality meted out in Mohali, Nagpur and Delhi.
The sun, though, is playing its own games by drying the Newlands pitch sooner than planned. At best, this pitch may provide something to everyone. Worst case scenario might be a track like the one that produced 1415 runs in a dead draw against England in 2016. The ground personnel though have assured there will be plenty of bounce and pace. And while the jury is still out whether swing would inflict some casualty, this India claims to be no longer a dummy against bounce.
South Africa are aware of this development. And probably that explains home boy Vernon Philander’s attempt at riling India, slightly unnatural considering the camaraderie these two teams share off the field courtesy the Indian Premier League. The gloves are off though this time as both teams are scramming to put their best XIs on the field.
South Africa coach Ottis Gibson may have expressed reservations about fielding Dale Steyn but you won’t want to buy into that after watching the man train. Shikhar Dhawan’s niggles sparked rumours he might not be fit but the opener had barged back by training long and hard. For India, the million-dollar question is whether Kohli goes for Rohit Sharma as the sixth batsman or Hardik Pandya as the fifth bowler. Logically, Pandya should play but Kohli may spring a surprise.
Having already drawn here once, India need to better their 2010-11 performance. Anything else would be considered a failure and could quickly liken this team to those who have been tigers at home but lambs abroad before. To validate their supremacy in nine consecutive Test series wins, India need to play consistent cricket against top teams for a year. That reality check begins Friday.