Could 2018 be the year that Team India finally lay the ghost of the past to rest in South Africa!
The series between these two cricketing giants will be eagerly watched by millions. Many of those will have their doubts as to whether India are able to rise above those that have travelled to the shores of the Rainbow nation with great expectation and left with their hearts and minds in tatters.
One doesn’t need to look too far back in time to see which Superstars made the journey and failed in their quest. Some of the greatest names in the history of cricket…never mind Indian cricket. Let me reminisce – Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Sehwag, Ganguly, Laxman, Srinath, Singh and Kapil Dev to name but a few. Each team arrived knowing that history beckoned if they could pull off the series win. Each one believed it was their time in history. Yet, it never happened.
So, what then makes this team under Virat Kohli different? His newly appointed management guru Ravi Shastri and former Indian captain himself knows full well the task at hand. Captain Kohli has spoken about the new team ethic that exists and the self-belief they have nowadays as they carry the mantle of Numero Uno in Test cricket in the world rankings. Mention has been about the bowling attack that has more experience and greater depth and possibly more all-round skill. The depth in the batting line-up has also been spoken about. The top six average handsomely in Test cricket with Kohli leading from the front. Is this enough though is the big question. Is there perhaps something else that has been overlooked?
I can understand the confidence of the Indians. Nowadays their top players rub shoulders with other top players around the world in the IPL. The fast bowling issue no longer holds the same fear factor as bygone times. The nucleus of the team have been around the block together for some time now and have gained confidence in each others’ ability. Especially when the going gets tough. Lessons from past tours to South Africa will have been passed down and those bases will have been dissected and discussed. All of the above creates in-house confidence. But the question still remains whether this is a false sense of confidence or not. Time will tell.
My view is that this Indian team is a good one but has yet to gain that elusive run of wins outside India to give them that real great status. Even the most ardent fans believe the jury is still out there.
Without delving into the playing ability of the Proteas and what they offer in terms of opposition, there are many other issues that make winning here hard work. Least of all the bouncy pitches with some lateral movement early on in a match that can sink even the best of batting line-ups in just a few overs.
The pressure of facing a relentless barrage of good, consistent fast bowling even with an older ball is never easy. The current Ashes series is a case in point. Key players who are normally bankers can fold under that intense pressure. It’s very different to the way the Indian players grow up. They feel the pressure of scoring on slow pitches against spin and sometimes medium pace at home. It’s a different kind of mindset.
The pace of the game is also vastly different. In India more patience is demanded. The game doesn’t get away from you that quickly. Here in South Africa boundaries can come at a rapid pace and in one session the game is gone.
Getting to know the angles on the field will demand much from Captain Kohli. Catching well behind the wicket is almost the single most important aspect a team has to do to win a Test. Half-chances are gold. As are little opportunities created by some innovative captaincy when things get stagnant in the middle overs.
There is no doubt that Virat Kohli is a driven man. He thirsts for success both with the bat and as a captain. One always gets the impression he demands excellence both on and off the field and he likes to feel in control. This may just be something tough to deal with here. Every one of his players will need to be zoned into their own game. Some will cope with a failure here or there but there is always one who won’t. I remember two players from previous tours that arrived with great ideas and soon slipped into such a negative state that they were rendered almost unplayable. One was Virender Sehwag and the other Harbajhan Singh. The tour couldn’t end fast enough for them and it had a dramatic effect on their team-mates. They are Indian legends.
The final mindset change that will demand much from captain Kohli is the toss. Sometimes winning the toss here comes with making a really tough decision. The captain and all the top batters know that one needs to bat first but in their mind they know the first session is fraught with danger and someone in the top four or five will miss out. The comfort of batting on the second day always plays on the mind of a batting captain.
In other words Kohli will need to make brave decisions…but at the same time stay focussed on his own game as he knows deep down his performance is critical to any success that will come the way of Team India this summer.