Leadership has been the making of Kohli the batsman. In a similar vein to Steve Smith of Australia, he thrives on the extra responsibility, and his batting has risen to new heights. Kohli is that rare breed, a player comfortable against speed and spin, and also blessed with an insatiable appetite for confrontation.
He takes it personally that India have never won a series on these shores, and will do anything to be the man to lead them to that kind of history. Simply put, if Kohli is at his best, India will be very difficult to contain. On current form, he is vying with Smith for the title of best batsman in world cricket. Back him to put up a sincere case on that matter on South African wickets which will encourage his dashing stroke play.
The heir apparent to Rahul Dravid, Rahane is well known to the South African attack. During the Proteas’ most recent tour of India, in 2015, the diminutive Rahane signed off the home team’s series win with a pair of centuries in the fourth and final Test in Delhi.
His defence was resolute, but he also showed terrific relish to punish any erring in length. Of late, he has had a lean time of it, with just 17 runs in five innings against Sri Lanka. South Africa will know he is a far better player than that, and will do their utmost to remove him early. Comfortable against pace, he remains one of India’s most organised batsmen.
In full flow, Sharma makes batting look incredibly uncomplicated. He has the same buttery wrists of predecessors like Mohammad Azharuddin and VVS Laxman, but sometimes lacks their ability to rise to the biggest challenges - especially away from home.
Sharma plundered a sorry Sri Lanka to all corners of India recently, suggesting he is enjoying some of his best form. A profitable series abroad remains a glaring omission from an otherwise well-decorated playing CV, and India will look to him to provide substance to match his considerable style.
Dale Steyn has often had his number, and he can be sure the "Phalaborwa Express" will seek him out once more.
India’s spin king tormented South Africa on home soil, ravaging the top-order with flight and delightful variations. At times, he was actually unplayable, as he and Ravi Jadeja spun India to a series triumph. His memories of South Africa are not so pleasant, however. Dean Elgar bullied him at the Wanderers, as Ashwin was made to look quite ordinary. He is a different bowler now, emboldened by success and a captain who throws the ball to him whenever he needs a breakthrough. He will also enjoy the extra bounce on offer in South Africa.
For the longest time, India treated it’s quick bowlers as men who would get the ball slightly worn, before their spinners took centre stage. No more. These days, India has a highly-skilled pace arsenal, and Shami is a crucial member of that hunting pack.
He has enough pace to keep the Proteas honest, but it is his ability to swing the ball that makes him a threat. Groundsmen around the country have been told to prepare fast tracks with some juice in them. Shamsi, and his fellow seamers, will not mind that one bit. They could well prove to be a more sincere threat than India’s spinners.