If one were to go by the rankings and the recent record of the two teams against each other, the short series between India and South Africa in South Africa promises to be a close affair. The last two Test series’ played between the sides have ended in 1-1 stalemates, and the one- day series during India’s last visit to South Africa was decided in the very last game, with India losing 2-3 after being 2-1 up in the series. The rankings reflect why the teams have had such close contests. South Africa are the number one Test team while India are just behind. In ODIs, India are the number one team with South Africa closely following them.
Although India would be expected to come up with another combative showing this time as well, they could be majorly handicapped owing to the lack of experience in their batting. Yes, India have some highly talented players like Dhawan, Rohit, Kohli and Pujara in their midst, but playing on the fast bouncy tracks of South Africa will be a massive challenge for them, one they are not use to yet. The series will filter out the men from the boys.
In contrast, the hosts, apart from having the advantage of knowing the conditions well also have battle-hardened players in their midst. The performance of South Africa’s top five – Amla, Kallis, Smith, de Villiers and Steyn could and should be the defining factor of the series. Most of them have tasted plenty of success against India in all kinds of conditions. This time as well, the Proteas team management will look up to these five experienced men to stand up and deliver. If they do, India’s chances of succeeding would be minimal.
The records of three of these five players are a clear indication of how crucial they will be to South Africa’s fortunes. Amla has featured in 12 Tests against India and has amassed 1164 runs at an average of 61 with five hundreds and a best of 253 not out. Kallis has played 16 Tests against India and has 1585 runs to his credit with six hundreds and a superb average of 72. Kallis has registered a highest of 201 not out against the Indians. He has also picked up 18 wickets with a best of 3/30 in these games.
Steyn has played 10 Tests against India and has grabbed 53 wickets in this period with four five wicket hauls and a best of 7/51, averaging a miserly 19. AB de Villiers, the South African ODI skipper, has featured in 11 Tests against India. His record isn’t great as he has managed only 675 runs in these matches averaging under 40. But he does have two hundreds to his credit, including a highest of 217 not out, which will encourage him to do better. Of all the players, Smith has the worst record against India. He averages 35 after 13 Tests with 804 runs and a highest of 94. But, Smith has experience on his side. He will however have to negate the Zaheer Khan factor above all.
--By A Cricket Analyst