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History beckons for motivated India

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India’s captain Virat Kohli celebrates with teammates during the fifth and final day of the second cricket Test match against England at Lord’s cricket ground in London in August. Picture: Glyn Kirk, AFP

The current cricket team have players capable of thriving in all conditions, and boast a fast-bowling unit that on paper matches the Proteas.

BLAME it on expanded squads because of bio-secure environments, but international cricket squads in the age of a pandemic don’t have as many surprises any more.

Basically, the selectors can choose everyone.

The real debates arise when the starting XIs get chosen.

It’s the same for India as it was for South Africa. They’ve picked a 17-man squad for the three-match Test series against the Proteas that contains no “left-field” picks.

It’s helped the Indian selectors that the team have been in such good form in the last 12 months. In that period, India have played 15 Test matches – South Africa have played only six – and won eight times, including a series triumph in Australia.

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There was no need for too much fiddling. They have players capable of thriving in all conditions, and boast a fast-bowling unit that on paper matches the Proteas.

In fact, strange as it may sound, given India’s history in SA over the last three decades, Virat Kohli’s men go into the series as favourites.

The amount of Test cricket they have played in the last year is one part of that – compared to the lack of Test match time for the Proteas. Another is the success they’ve had and the confidence that has imbued among the players.

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The chance to create history will be a powerful source of motivation, particularly for Kohli.

From Mohammad Azharuddin to Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kohli himself, all have led strong teams to South Africa, with Dhoni’s 2011 side’s 1-1 draw the closest the Indians have come to winning a series in SA.

This current group is well equipped to change that.

The batting is better than SA’s. The lazy stereotype that Indians can’t play the short ball was long ago flushed down the loo. Last season‘s amazing series win in Australia proved that.

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Kohli missed the last three Tests of that series due to his wife giving birth, but the rest of the Indian batters withstood the very best that Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Pat Cummins could throw at them. So they won’t fear Kagiso Rabada and company.

Rohit Sharma is a much better batter now than the one who fidgeted around in the four Tests he has played in SA previously. His average of 15.37 in SA is something he will be desperate to change.

In Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, India have a trio of players who have all made runs in SA before, while Rishabh Pant is a genuine match-winner.

Jasprit Bumrah leads the seam-bowling unit, which will make life very difficult for a SA batting line-up that is searching for an identity.

The Indians will throw a lot of different plans at them with Bumrah and Mohammed Shami skilful operators, while Mohammed Siraj, who plays on passion, looks like he could bowl all day.

A bit like Sharma with the bat, Ravichandran Ashwin has plenty to prove with the ball in SA as well. He had very favourable conditions to operate in during the Centurion Test in 2018 when he bowled 70 overs in the match, including 39 in the first innings, but couldn’t do enough to prevent an India loss.

The Indians will feel that this is arguably the weakest Proteas team that any touring side from the subcontinent has faced.

It’s as good an opportunity as any for them to make history and add to the stunning success they’ve had in the Test format in the last few years.

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