Johannesburg - Cheteshwar Pujara underlined India’s self-belief by stating that this summer represented India’s best chance of winning a Test series in South Africa.
India have tried seven times in the last 30 years, and failed on each occasion, to win a series in this country. Given their success in the last 12 months - winning in Australia, claiming two wins out of four matches in the shortened series with England, and their dominance at home - the three-match series that starts in Centurion on Boxing Day, does represent India’s best chance of ticking that empty box on their cricket CV.
"I am sure there is enough time for us to prepare and guys are looking forward to this series. This is the best opportunity for us to win our first series in South Africa,”said Pujara.
India had their first training session at SuperSport Park at the weekend, dusting off the cobwebs after the hard lockdown which began in Mumbai last week. The Proteas, who went into their ‘bio bubble’ on Saturday, trained at the Wanderers on Sunday, their sessions being conducted in smaller groups as part of the ‘bubble’ protocols.
Pujara, mentioned the difference in readiness of the two teams, saying India’s recent home Test series against New Zealand meant many of the players were “in touch.” It’s not the same for the South Africans, who last played a Test in June, when seeing off the West Indies in St. Lucia.
It means this week's training, which will take place at the Wanderers until Tuesday, before moving to SuperSport Park, will have to happen in such a way so as to get the players up to speed both mentally and physically.
For someone like Lungi Ngidi, who hasn’t played a competitive match of any kind since July, it will be especially critical. A decision about whether to start with Ngidi or the in-form Duanne Olivier, is probably the most difficult one for the selectors to make before next Sunday.
South Africa is unlikely to follow the path England did for the second Ashes Test in picking five seamers, with the Proteas probably sticking with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, with three-frontline quicks, supplemented by Wiaan Mulder’s medium pace.
India too will face some questions about the composition of their attack, but they will do so confident in everyone’s ability to deliver regardless of conditions. “Our fast bowlers are our strength and I hope that they will be able to utilise these conditions and give us 20 wickets in every Test match,” Pujara commented.
That’s exactly what India did in 2018, it was just that they got out-batted by South Africa, who at that stage had AB de Villiers.
The Indian seamers were superb, even when down to a couple of ‘net bowlers’ for that epic win in Brisbane earlier this year. "Our fast bowlers have been the difference between the two sides whenever we have played abroad. If you look at the Australia series, even if you look at the England series, we have done exceptionally well as a bowling unit and I am sure that will be the case even in South Africa."
* Cricket SA confirmed Sunday that the last round of matches in the first portion of the Four-Day series would be postponed until early next year.
Cricket SA cited concerns over the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases in the country, driven by the Omicron Covid-19 variant as its reason for doing so.