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India vs SA, 2018: Ultimate Test

The Indian team’s solid form and data suggest that this could be the best chance to beat South Africa on their own ground and bring the Freedom Series trophy home, writes Shashwat Sajal.

The fact that the last year was full of achievements for the Virat Kohli led Indian cricket team is undeniable. They secured number one ranking in Tests and ranked second in One Day Internationals. They triumphed over every team they were pitched against. Right now, the team is on a nine-Test series winning streak, though most of the winning came from home matches on batting friendly wickets. The series against Sri Lanka was kind of a walk-in park for the top-ranked Indian Test cricket team. The Sri Lankan team was a weaker opponent and at large, it was a one-sided affair. Still, the men in blue deserve praise for their consistent and match winning performances.

Now, the Indian cricket team is in South Africa to challenge the world number two Proteas in their own den. They will participate in three Tests, six One Day Internationals and three T20Is over the following two months. According to cricket pundits, this is going to be the toughest challenge the Indian team will face after securing number one Test ranking. Meanwhile this year's first Test match is being played in Cape Town. India bowled out South Africa for 286 in first innings. In reply, they were 112/7 at Drinks on the second day.
It seems like Indians are again on backfoot against South African pace attack, which is not new. Team India has always been criticised for their performance on foreign soil. It has been their tendency to collapse in a difficult situation, and they have a long history of surrendering to the tougher competitor. Their record against South Africa is no exception. India has never won a Test series in South Africa. Indian team has played 17 test matches against Proteas in South Africa and has managed to win only two. They lost eight, while seven tests resulted in a draw. Their best performance till date came in 2010-11 when the MS Dhoni-led team managed to draw a series in South Africa with 1-1 result. Last time when the team visited South Africa in 2013, Virat Kohli was the captain. India lost that two-match Test series to 1-0.
But the past is past. Everything is done and dusted now. After that series, the team has improved in every aspect of cricketing. Data suggests that the current team has the highest overseas win percentage in last 3 years among all the cricketing nations. Since January 2015, the Indian cricket team has played 70 overseas matches out of which they have won 45. The team lost 18 matches, while 4 were drawn, and 3 ended with no results. It shows that the team has managed a win percentage of 64.29% in overseas matches.
Whereas, South Africa participated in 67 matches played on foreign soil. They managed only 28 wins while losing 27 and maintaining a win percentage of 45.90%. 13 members of the Indian squad including Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ishant Sharma have already played on South African soil, so more or less, they have an idea about the pitch condition and what to expect. The squad also include players like Hardik Pandya and Parthiv Patel who are the newbies for the alien environment.
Captain Kohli is in his best form nowadays, and can alone help the team to put a decent score. During the last tour to South Africa, he had scored 272 runs in 4 innings with an average of 68.
Given the chance, Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and KL Rahul are ready to provide a solid start as opener batsmen while the middle-order is trustworthy with the presence of Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane.
Wriddhiman Saha, Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja might provide balance to the team with their all-rounder performance.
But someone who can be a game changer for this series is a fast bowler. The team has Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah in the fast-bowling squad. The team's hope for historic series win depends on these bowlers. It looks more promising as the South African pitches are pacer friendly. These bowlers will have to prove their mental strength this time around. They will have to get rid of the lower middle-order of the Proteas if they want to stop South African from putting a mammoth score.
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will have to contest for the lone spinner's spot in the team because team India is more likely to play with 3 pacers and one spinner.
Additionally, the lower middle-order of the team will have to perform same as they were doing on home grounds. Overall, the team has the backup for almost every position and is well balanced.
But underestimating South Africa will be a grave mistake, which India would never want to commit. Since 2015, South Africa has played 25 matches at home and have lost only four. They have dominated in the last three series on their home grounds having clean sweep victory over their opponents.
Nevertheless, Indian batsmen have always been vulnerable to swing and seam attack. The Kolkata Test against Sri Lanka is its proof. Batsmen struggled to put up a decent score against the moving ball. South Africa will definitely try to exploit this weakness of Indian team as the pitches are conducive to fast bowlers. Moreover, in last 18 months, South Africa has not made any change in their batting line-up. It has largely remained the same, and consistent in performance. The team is at full strength for this series. Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar are doing well as an opening pair. South Africa's one of the most reliable batsman Hashim Amla will be securing the ground at number 3. Captain Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock will be shielding the middle order. And most importantly, AB de Villiers has returned to the team after a long time and will try to make a huge score during this series.
Team India needs to beware of the deadly pace attack of South Africa which includes the player like Dale Steyn and Chris Morris who have finally recovered from their injuries. Steyn will put all his effort to get five wickets to become South Africa's most successful fast bowler while surpassing Shaun Pollock's tally of 421 wickets. Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel along with Kagiso Rabada can prove to be lethal for the Indian batting order. All these bowlers are in red-hot form and will create trouble for our batsmen. Also, the South African team will be fighting to secure the number one spot in test ranking which they last held in January 2016. Though this is very unlikely as they also will have to defeat Aussies 3-0 in upcoming four-test match series.
The Indian team's solid form and data suggest that this could be the best chance to beat South Africa on their own ground and bring the Freedom Series trophy home. But we can't ignore the fact that the Proteas will be darling of the locals as they are playing on the home ground. They will have the upper hand as players are accustomed to the home environment. No matter how strong team India is, it will not be easy to defeat South Africa. At least not on their home ground. So Indians will have to break a sweat to continue their winning streak.
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