On the southern front, everything is peaceful. The Indian cricket team has been in Centurion for a week now, preparing for the Boxing Day Test, yet there is scarcely a murmur that the world’s most popular cricket team is here to play a key series. The series is crucial for Cricket South Africa because a successful, and in today’s world, even complete, series ensures that they will be able to survive and fight another year.
The match is significant for India since the team has never won a series in this country. Under Virat Kohli’s leadership, this squad welcomes the unknown and difficulties without fear or hesitation, and enjoys making history. To accomplish so, the first step would be to get off to a good start.
India has a history of being reluctant to get going, and this was back when you had two, sometimes three, warm-up matches against local opponents before the first Test. Within the group, there was simply center-wicket practice, net sessions, and fitness exercises. In some ways, this is cricket in the Covid-19 era, living in a bio-bubble that is simultaneously a vacuum. There will be no crowd at SuperSport Park when the Centurion Test begins.
This is a wonderful stadium where the audience generally plays an important role since they are near to the action and there are grass banks surrounding the stadium, creating an intimate feel. All of it will be absent. South Africa may miss this the most, since a large home crowd, even with increasing support, acts as a 12th man, putting pressure on the opposition, particularly when they are new at the wicket and nervous. And as the game starts, you can bet there will be butterflies in your tummy. The Indian team’s coach, Rahul Dravid, said that the early going in South Africa was difficult.
“It’s tough to get going right away when you come here, even in the first few net sessions, particularly in Centurion where there is bounce,” he noted, drawing on his previous experience playing here. “It’s good to get off to a solid start, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.” I’ve been on tours here when we started well and subsequently lost, and I’ve also been on tours here where we lost the first game. What is it about this place that makes it so tough to get started? To begin with, there’s the bounce.
While the pitches here allow for greater carry than everywhere else in India, they also have a wide variety of bounce. If there is a little moisture on the surface early on, the bounce may be steep, but more like that of a tennis ball. On the second and third days, when the sun bakes down on the surface, it becomes harder and truer, allowing the ball to sail through to the goalie. However, the most hazardous time is at the finish of the game, when the bounce becomes more inconsistent.
Add in the fact that all of South Africa’s fast bowlers are tall, and you’ve got yourself a bowling interrogation. It’s obvious that the inquiries will come quick and furious. What is less clear is how India will respond. India’s opening pair of KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal isn’t their first option now that Rohit Sharma is out of the series. The middle order has been in serious need of runs for quite some time.
India’s opening pair of KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal isn’t their first option now that Rohit Sharma is out of the series. The middle order has been in serious need of runs for quite some time. If Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane all participate, the challenge of batting in difficult circumstances against great competition might be just what they need to improve their game.
All three are experienced, eager, and proud cricketers, and it is not inconceivable to see them break free from the shackles of their long-term bad form. It also has the potential to break them as batters. In these settings, if you develop a specific vulnerability or a recurring style of dismissal, bowlers will mercilessly exploit it.
There is one thing that is certain. This is going to be a fantastic series to watch. Rain is predicted to play a part in the first Test, despite the fact that match eve was bright and beautiful under the typical blue African sky. However, the prediction is not so bleak that an outright victory is in jeopardy. With that background, and the fact that neither team’s batting lineup seems to be capable of scoring runs, it’s safe to say we’re in for a fight, with no quarter given and none requested.