India are confident ahead of their test series against the Proteas. Photo: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
The Indian team has not fretted over pitches in the way they did in 2015, when they last hosted South Africa in a Test series, which is a sign of their self-belief.

No longer is India going to be bullied. This is an Indian team in their captain’s image; with its chest out, a self-confidence bordering on arrogant and a bowling attack that mixes it with anyone in any conditions. Heck, India are feeling so good about themselves, Rohit Sharma is getting another go at playing Test cricket - as an opener to boot.

It was a slightly panicky India in 2015 that had just lost a T20 series and then an ODI series against the Proteas and demanded raging turning tracks for the Test matches. They won that series 3-0.

Subsequently their captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri have built them into all round team - tough, confident and skilful - capable of mixing it with the best even when conditions aren’t in their favour.

They may have lost the series to South Africa when they toured here last year, but the win in the last Test on a dangerous Wanderers track, was hugely significant. They lost the following series in England, but were competitive and then went on to win a Test series in Australia for the very first time. They are well within their rights to feel good about themselves.

So there’s been no talk about pitches for this year’s three Test series that started this morning. The weather conditions in the eastern part of India, where Visakhapatnam is situated, have been hot, and rain has been forecast for various days throughout the Test. Nevertheless, players and coaches from both teams still expect that the pitch will spin - how much and how quickly, will become clearer over the coming days.

Not that it bothers India. The batting core; Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Anjinkye Rahane are an imposing trio, which as a unit hold a big advantage over South Africa. The hosts will hope all their scoring won’t be solely dependent on that trio and that Sharma and his opening partner Mayank Agarwal will take some of the responsibility on their shoulders.

India is in the midst of a search for an opening combination hence the decision to reignite Sharma’s Test career and even that is a sign of how very confident they are of winning this series.

“Look, we’re not looking to rush him at all,” Kohli said of Sharma, on the eve of the first Test. Sharma averages a more than respectable 39.62, with nearly half of his 1 585 Test runs coming in just nine home Tests. Against South Africa he averages just 12.47, although he’s only faced them twice in India.

“It’s about him finding his game accordingly because in India it’s going to be a different practice that you follow. Opening is a slot where you have to give a player space to understand his own game. So yeah, we’re in no rush. He’ll be given space to find his own game and come into his own.”

The loss of Jasprit Bumrah, arguably the best seam bowler in the world in the last two years, should be significant - and in one sense it is - but it doesn’t appear to have had much of an affect on the Indian psyche. Ishant Sharma is bowling as well as at any stage in his career and Mohammed Shami is a crafty operator, whose consistency is his hallmark.

Even if those two aren’t successful, they still have Ravichandaran Ashwin and Ravi Jadeja, South Africa’s tormentors in 2015, to call on.

India has lost just one Test on home soil in six years and are chasing an 11th consecutive Test series win at home too.

That would be enough to make any team feel good about itself, nevermind one led by a character like Kohli, whose self-belief is immense, something he’s imparted onto his team as they’ve risen to the top of the Test rankings.


The Star