Series against South Africa will set the tone for future
After passing the Lanka test with flying colours, Team India now has a Herculean task to perform on home soil. With heavyweights South Africa set to visit for a lengthy tour, where they will play three T20Is, five ODIs followed by four Tests, the much-anticipated series might turn out to be a defining moment for the young and dynamic Indian team in more ways than one.
Stern Test on the cards: Four-match Test series against robust South Africa will be an acid test for skipper Virat Kohli and his brigade. To beat the number one ranked team in Test cricket, Team India, who is going through a transition phase, has to rise to the occasion and pounce on every opportunity that comes its way. The series against Proteas to an extent will set the template for the future, where one should know what to expect from the young side. A stern home Test will give a fair picture about the strengths and weaknesses of the team, which has been playing without a regular coach. However, the home side can take heart from the fact that it is blessed with motivational Team Director in Ravi Shastri and other coaching staff, who have performed exceptionally well behind the scenes thus far.
Fate of skipper MS Dhoni: The lengthy series starting with three T20Is will also give the most successful limited-overs Indian skipper of all-time, MS Dhoni, a good view about his future. With age catching up, reflexes of the ODI skipper have also slowed down a bit. His big-hitting ability is fading away and his 'best finisher' tag diminishing. After coming from a long vacation, it would be interesting to see his approach, especially towards his batting style, which has had its fair share of criticism in the recent past. Well past his prime, Dhoni's role in the batting-order might also change. And as Kohli has already taken over the reins in Tests, Dhoni’s captaincy in shorter formats will also be scrutinized closely. Voices for making Kohli skipper in all the formats are growing louder, which might affect Dhoni's dominance and authority in the team to an extent. With the ICC World T20 approaching, 'Captain Cool’ has to let his bat do the talking to silence his critics.
Bowling strategy: Five-bowler strategy worked really well for Team India in Lanka, where they played a three-Test series. Considering the length of the upcoming home series against mighty South Africans, fitness of speedsters for its entire duration would remain a prime concern. India will play eight limited-overs matches before the much-anticipated Tests series kicks off. However, keeping every aspect in mind, national selectors picked up the speedsters quite strategically for the T20Is and first three ODIs. Spearhead Ishant Sharma, who played a pivotal role during the Lanka series has been rested. It would certainly help the lanky pacer revitalize himself before the most grueling part of the series starts.
Robust South Africa: The Proteas have a world-class bowling attack. In Morne Morkel, Dayle Steyn and Vernon Philander and Imran Tahir the rainbow nation has four premier bowlers at their disposal, who can rip apart any batting line-up. Can Indian batsmen subdue arguably the best bowling line-up in the world? If that’s not enough, then the numero uno Test side has a star-studded batting line-up as well, who can excel in any given condition. The likes of Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, to name a few, can change the course of the game single-handedly. For the record, Proteas have never lost an away series in whites since 2006, a phenomenal record which they would like to continue during their Indian sojourn.
New kid on the block: Scarcity of proven all-rounder(s) has always been India’s Achilles heel. Ironically, this time around India have picked three all-rounders for the first half of the series, which also includes promising prospect Gurkeerat Singh, alongside Axar Patel and Stuart Binny. After a string of all-round performances in the recent past, especially while playing for India A, the uncapped youngster from Punjab is looking set to make a debut. Interestingly, he will be fighting for a place with the other two, who have performed in patches thus far. If Gurkeerat, a more than handy off-spinner and lower-order batsman, manages to impress the selectors in the crucial series, he might easily get a chance to slip into the Test squad as well. So keep an eye on this lad, who can surprise you with his on-field skills and is considered among one of the best outfielders in the country.