Five talking points ahead of the first Test between India and South Africa in Mohali on Thursday.
Spin, spin, spin
South Africa are bracing for an almighty onslaught from India’s spinners throughout the series. The technique of South Africa’s batsmen against spin will be put to the test, especially the likes of Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Vilas. India are likely to play at least two spinners in every game, and if conditions really suit them they might even opt for three. Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers are, according to the latter, the best players of spin in the team. If they do well, South Africa should too. R Ashwin will be the main threat, and India will likely look to land a few psychological blows in the first Test to get the upper hand.
South Africa have three choices. Imran Tahir, Simon Harmer and Dane Piedt. Who they go with will depend on the type of the game they want to play and the role they need the spinner to fulfil. If you want an attacking option and don’t mind going for a few runs, Tahir is your man. He has the experience and the variation, but may struggle for consistency. Harmer can provide a holding role, while Piedt is a combination of the two. Whoever the selectors go for should be backed and not thrown under the bus when the going gets tough.
Steyn is key
Dale Steyn needs only 10 wickets to become the first overseas fast bowler to take 100 wickets in Asia. He has been one of the rare fast bowlers who has found success on subcontinent pitches. In Asia, he has picked up 90 wickets in 19 Tests at an average of 22.33. He is the spearhead of the South African attack and has the most experience. Amla will throw the ball to him when South Africa need something special and Steyn seems ready for the challenge. He’s had a whole ODI series to get ready and should be firing on all cylinders from the start.
India are playing Test cricket at home for the first time in almost two years and have lost just one of their last 17 series there, but at the moment look more vulnerable than ever. This will be Kohli’s debut series leading the side at home and after India lost both the T20 and ODI series, there is serious pressure on them to turn things around. As their best batsman and new leader, South Africa will do well to target Kohli from the outset. Test cricket is about building pressure, among other things, and by frustrating Kohli it will put extra pressure on the rest of the Indian team.
Making way for KG
The question has been asked and the answer should come pretty soon from the Proteas selectors. When will Kagiso Rabada make his Test debut? Rabada has done so well since coming on to the international scene against Bangladesh that it’s easy to forget just how good the incumbents are. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander have been the best bowling attack in the world for the last four or five years and has been one of the main reasons why South Africa are ranked No 1 in Test cricket. Should someone make way, it is likely to be Philander, especially in subcontinent conditions where his effectiveness is questioned. It’s never easy to change something that has brought a lot of success, but whatever decision is made should be for the sole benefit of the team.