When Steve Waugh’s world-beating Australian side toured India back in 2001 for an eagerly awaited Test series, they termed it as the ‘Final Frontier’. The dominant Aussies had crushed almost every team in the world and were desperate to beat the Indians in their own den, a feat that a visiting Australian team had not been able to accomplish since 1969.
As India travel to South Africa later this month, they find themselves in a similar although not an identical situation. The Indians, who are going into the series as the number one Test side in the world, would, however, be hoping for a different result than what Waugh’s invincibles ended up with. Australia had lost that three Test series 1-2 despite winning the inaugural match at Mumbai by a convincing margin.
India, who began the year as the Numero Uno Test team, have successfully held on to their position till now. The year commenced on a positive note as the Indians predictably thumped a lowly Bangladesh team 2-0 before drawing the two-Test home series against South Africa.
Next in line was the tour of Sri Lanka, which too ended in a 1-1 draw with the second match of the series failing to produce a result. There was great anticipation before the Australians came over for a two-Test series. The contest did live up to expectations but the home side ended up winning both the games. India won the next series against New Zealand as well, though not as forcefully as expected.
However, despite their tremendous record under skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it will be a colossal mistake to take the South Africans lightly.
The African nation has always been a tough side to handle for the Indians not only away but also at home. SA’s tour of India in February earlier this year was a pertinent example of how the Team India finds it difficult to counter the Proteas’ fire power.
India succumbed to an embarrassing inns & 6 runs defeat in the first Test at Nagpur. Although they did manage to make a comeback by winning the next game at Kolkata in equally emphatic fashion, the Proteas had been successful in sending out a strong message.
The Indian team’s dismal performance in South Africa makes it all the more difficult to predict an Indian series win for even the most optimistic Indian cricket fan. For the record, India have never won a Test series in South Africa and have been able to win just one game out of the 12 matches played in that country.
The fact that Team India have played most of their cricket in the sub-continent during the past year also puts a question mark on the preparedness of the youngsters to face the pace and bounce of the African wickets. And with Rahul Dravid, who has been the team’s only saving grace in the most adverse conditions, struggling desperately for form, it would take some out-of-the-skin performances from the team to achieve the improbable.
Besides, South Africa are the second ranked team in the world with a number of stars in their ranks. A good home series could easily see them overtake the Indians in the ICC rankings table.
But, all said and done, it will surely be an invigorating series between the two giants of cricket with the winner walking away with mantle of the undisputed king of cricket.