A mouth-watering contest is about to begin in a couple of days’ time. As South Africa arrive in India for their longest tour ever (in terms of days spent), it’s time we analyze whether the tagline for this series of Indian cricket “Mushkil Hai, Mazaa Aayega” (Star Sports India) actually applies to India or the Proteas. Let’s do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis for #TeamIndia.
Quite obviously our biggest strengths will be our spin bowling. Proteas flowers are known to flounder in slow, spinning conditions and that’s what we need to exploit. Remember the thrashing we got on our last tour of SA (in 2013) and the bouncy wickets that we were treated to and… we didn’t quite like them? Now, it’s our turn to treat the visitors with some spin and dust of Indian pitches. With Ashwin and Mishra in great form, spin is indeed our greatest strength. Our ODI batting line-up is a strength too. With Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan in good form and MS Dhoni fresh from a much-needed break, our ODI batting looks good.
Our Test batting line-up is in a situation of flux. Batting order changes, injuries and form are a concern. Opening slots are yet to be finally decided. This is where the Kohli-Shastri combine should take the initiative and repose faith in the likes of K L Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara and provide a strong upper order. There are also doubts about whether our pace bowling line-up is up to the mark for a batting order of the caliber of South Africa and their comfort level with pace bowling.
Home conditions are perhaps our greatest opportunity. Teeming crowds of supporters, slow and dusty pitches that turn and the dew factor as the winter progresses will have a definite impact on the game. This is perhaps the best chance India will have, in the three formats, to beat a formidable SA. Also, the SA pace line-up may not be as effective in Indian conditions and may not be able to exploit the chinks in India’s batting armour.
There have been on and off talks about a certain dressing room friction and Team Director Ravi Shastri’s preference for certain players over others. Team India needs to set this aside and ensure a healthy and comfortable dressing room atmosphere so that each player can focus on the game and not on other things and is not forced to choose between “captains” and camps. Even if we assume (and hope) that the SA pace battery will not adjust to the Indian conditions, the scary SA batting line-up can play spoil-sport for India. Hashim Amla and AB De Villiers are in great form and are masters of their respective formats (that they captain). Indians just cannot afford to take them lightly.
Let’s hope the inaugural Mahatma Gandhi-Nelson Mandela Trophy (which begins on Gandhi Jayanti) will be a treat for cricket fans in general and Indian cricket fans in particular!
Shashi Shekhar Misra
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