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India’s long road ahead

India’s long  road ahead
The last time we saw Team India in action on the field, they were <g data-gr-id="66">taming</g> the Lankan lions in Sri Lanka. After asserting their domination on the Lankans, the team created history by winning a Test series in the island soil after 22 long years. Now, after the sense of revelry has died down, India’s next challenge looms just over the horizon in the form of South Africa. As modern cricket has taught us, you are only as good as your recent result. This is what Team India needs to be wary of. All the support, all the accolades that they have earned after the series win against Sri Lanka will mean nothing if they lose to South Africa and that too at home. The situation will just flip itself and critics will have a field day nitpicking at all the cracks they can find in the armour, claiming that the win in Sri Lanka was just a one off thing.

The South Africans have arrived and though they may not be the force that they once were, it will be a rather hefty task to beat these resilient warriors. Though India is one of the strongest teams to play against in their own backyard, we have to remember that Sri Lanka was too, against India, for 22 years. The same thing can happen to India if they are not careful. If they let their guard down, South Africa will pounce and surely rip India’s reputation to shreds.

The tour is scheduled for a grueling two months starting from October 2 with the first T20 match and stretching all the way to the last match of the Test series, beginning on December 3. There will be a total of 3 T20 matches, 5 ODIs and 4 Tests. In short it’s crunch time for Team India. The strategy that the Indians should avail to is taking one match at a time with the first challenge coming in the form of the T20 series. Though India is a former T20 World Cup champion, a lot of time has passed since then. Among the top eight nations, India has played the least amount of T20 matches standing at a mere 55. While the players have experience playing for their respective IPL teams, it is much more important for them to gel as a single unit while playing in their national colours. In Tests and One Dayers, even if you make an error, you have time to rectify them. Not so much in the T20s. One mistake and you are down for the count.

With the 2016 T20 World Cup steadily approaching, India needs to stay on top of their form which makes the upcoming series against South Africa even more important. Additionally, a bad start in a series is very hard to recover from so India should look at the T20 matches as a launching pad for a great start to the two-month long series.

The South Africans have started on a stutter note Indian soil as they lost to a rather weak team of India A by eight wickets in a warm-up T20 match on Tuesday, but one would be a fool to count out the Proteas after one loss. Granted, their strength has greatly depleted but stranger things have happened in cricket.

The last time these two sides met was on February 22, at Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia, during the 2015 Cricket World Cup which India won by 150 runs. So, India definitely has an edge over the South Africans. Now their only target will be not to let that edge slip.

Another advantage India has for the T20 series is that South Africans are holding back their top bowling weapons in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel for the three-match T20 series. Both of them will join the side for the five-match ODI series that follows, and the four Test matches which may pose a new problem to India as these two speedsters will be comparatively fresh as compared to the other players but at the end of the day cricket is a game of eleven players.

India appears to have a balanced squad with skipper Dhoni returning after a long lay-off after the Bangladesh series.  The batting line-up will essentially be the same for the ODIs and the T20s. Given Dhoni’s preferences for control over pace, the seamers are all the medium-pace variety. Varun Aaron, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma have been excluded and it will fall to Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohit Sharma, Sreenath Aravind and Stuart Binny to shoulder the burden. Suresh Raina is likely to be the key in the batting department. He has been the highest run-getter for India (214 from 6 inns at 42.80) against South Africa in T20Is, has the best strike-rate - 153.95 and is the only Indian to have hit a century against them. 

South Africa have an experienced batting line-up but an equally inexperienced bowling line-up, which might be their biggest weakness with the combination of Kyle Abbott, Marchant de Lange, Eddie <g data-gr-id="104">Leie</g>, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Khaya Zondo having played just 27  T20 matches. This is where South Africa will need the highest wicket taker of Delhi Daredevils aka Imran Tahir. Plus there is always a threat of an AB De Villiers show that could spoil the hosts’ party. The real test (pun intended), however, comes in the Test series where Virat Kohli as a captain will again have to prove his mettle and once and for all show the world that the Sri Lanka series win was not a fluke. If India manages to send South Africa packing after the Test series, Virat’s place will be more than solidified as a future ballot hall of <g data-gr-id="105">famer</g>. After shouldering the burden of captaincy, runs have dried off from young Kohli’s bat. 

The team will be hoping all that changes against South Africa. History is littered with examples where a great batsman loses his touch when handed the captain’s responsibility with the most famous of them being the one and only Sachin Tendulkar. India, as well as Kohli, would hope that this will not be the case for the latter. Once Virat is able to balance captaincy and his batting prowess, he will cement his legacy once and for all. It’s a do or die situation for the young lad. He has the opportunity to rise to the occasion and take his rightful place as the next superstar of Indian cricket or fade into obscurity with passing time.

After South Africa, there is another challenge that awaits India at the turn of the year. In January, they have to travel Down Under where they will be playing 5 ODIs and 3 T20 matches. Australia is always a dangerous opposition even more so at their home turf so one can imagine what kind of conditioning the Indian team has to be in to beat the famous baggy greens in their own home. When bowlers like Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson belts out those firebolts which they call deliveries, the fabled Indian batting line-up should be able to withstand the initial onslaught. With a team boasting of talents like Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Mitchell Marsh and David Warner just to name a few, India will need a herculean effort to knock Australia off their perch. It’s a long and hard road ahead for the men in blue but if anyone can do it, it’s this Indian team. Now bring on South Africa!!!
Sayak Dutta

Sayak Dutta

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