India's Tour of South Africa 2021/22 - Preview

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India's Tour of South Africa 2021/22 - Preview

23 Dec 2021 234 Views Yash Mittal

"We don't think of just winning a Test match here and there anymore and we will do our absolute best to make sure we keep contributing towards that cause"

Amid everything that Virat Kohli said in a blockbuster pre-tour press conference, this is one thing that probably went unnoticed. And, to be honest, it was pretty understandable, given the fact that the presser was about the off-field controversy that has plagued Indian cricket in the past two months.

Virat's statement that India no longer aims for an odd victory during an overseas tour was a reflection of how far the No.1 ranked Test team has come under his leadership.

No longer is a Test win in obscure conditions hailed as an achievement by this team and its fans, and it is reflective of the aspirations and expectations that have been accentuated in the last 5 years.

In many ways, India's journey to becoming the most consistent side in overseas conditions started with the tour of South Africa back in 2018. 

They didn't win the series, in fact, they lost the first couple of Tests, but the fight that they showed and the way they held their own on a dangerous pitch in Joburg to eke out a famous win was a signal that this team won't back down in obscure conditions.

The foundation for future success was laid in Jo'burg 2018 and following back-to-back series wins in Australia and a 2-1* lead in England, Virat Kohli's men are back in the rainbow nation to scale yet another unchartered territory.

However, unlike last time, skipper Virat returns to South Africa amid relentless pressure, both as batsman and captain. It will be interesting to see how the champion cricketer responds to the challenge.

While it's understandable that Kohli-the batsman is under scrutiny given the fact that he has undergone a lean patch in Test cricket in the past 18-20 months, it is a shame that he is facing scrutiny as a leader given India's stellar run in the longest format of the game in the last 6 years.

India have lost just 3 out of their last 22 Test rubbers under Virat, winning 18. The Test series against England is yet to be decided. If the tourists manage to win in South Africa, then Virat will become the first Indian skipper to lead his country to a Test series win in Australia and South Africa.

Kohli has previously thrived on letting his bat and his performance as captain do the talking amid relentless noise on the outside. It is high time he does that again.

But, can India win in South Africa?

Of course they can! Given the strength and form of the tourists and the fact that the Proteas are in the midst of transition following retirements of their stalwarts like AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Vernon Philander, it is arguably India's best chance to pull off a maiden heist in the rainbow nation.

Having said that, it isn’t going to be a walk in the park and there are many reasons for that. Firstly, India will be without their ace opener Rohit Sharma. Now, 12-15 months ago the absence of Rohit from a Test tour especially in South Africa wouldn’t have made much of a difference, but that's certainly not the case now.

Rohit, the Test opener proved himself to the hilt against the Dukes in England earlier this summer. He averaged over 50 and his absence is certainly a gaping hole in the tourists' batting-unit.

In his absence, the onus will be on Mayank Agarwal and especially KL Rahul to blunt the new ball threat of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Duanne Oliver.

Rahul did decently well in England - 315 runs in 8 innings at 39.38 and India will hope he continues the good work in South Africa.

This brings us to the middle-order. The absence of Rohit at the top means there will be added pressure on the famed duo of Pujara and Virat.

Since the start of 2020, the Indian middle-order has gone missing at times. Each of them is averaging less than 30, and it won't be an exaggeration to say that the key to the Indian team scaling another unchartered territory lies with them considering the quality of pace attack that South Africa have at their disposal.

It will also be interesting to see if India persist with the underperforming Rahane or do they play Hanuma Vihari at his place. Vihari did really well during the India A series in South Africa and even though Shreyas Iyer made the most of the chances he got against New Zealand at home, the former should surely be high in the pecking order if Rahane is indeed dropped.

Also, with Ravindra Jadeja unavailable, it will be interesting to see if India still persist with the 5-bowlers theory. If they persist with it, then it means that the likes of Ashwin and Shardul Thakur will have to play a crucial role to play as lower-order batsmen. Something that Bhuvneshwar Kumar did brilliantly during the last tour.

As far as the fast bowling department is concerned, it was during the last South African tour that their journey towards becoming the most lethal and consistent unit started. Come Boxing Day, and they will look to add yet another chapter to it and hopefully lead India to another heist.

Can India pull it off? Of course they can. Will they pull it off given all the off-field turmoil in recent months? Will it have an effect on their performance? It shouldn't. But we will wait and see.

Do you know?

  • India have won just three Tests (out of 20) in South Africa, losing 10 while 7 have ended in a draw.
  • South Africa remains the only country where India haven't won a series.
  • India have won each of their last two Boxing Day Tests.
  • India’s W/L ratio in away Tests since January 2016- 1.36 [15 wins and 11 defeats in 31 games]- the best in the world.
  • India have both Tests they have played in Centurion
  • India have lost just 3 Test rubbers in the last 7 years.

Yash Mittal

Bharat Army Cricket Writer


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