CAPE TOWN – The South African cricket summer has been a bit of dull affair thus far.
From the T20 Global League postponement through to the lame showing of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, it has almost been as disappointing as a slow-burning firecracker.
This is all about to change for it is set to explode today. It is only fitting that Newlands lends its magnificent scenic backdrop for this clash of titans.
South Africa, the World’s No 2-ranked Test side, facing up to cricket’s top dogs India in its lions den.
The Proteas have only ever suffered Test defeats to Australia at “Fortress Newlands” post-isolation.
There is an abundance of quality in both teams, but it is the home side who have history on their side.
Not only does their Newlands dominance favour them, but they have also not lost a Test series to a sub-continent team on home soil ever.
It is not a record that Proteas captain Faf du Plessis wants to surrender under his watch.
In South African cricket, Du Plessis is the master of all that he surveys after re-building a Test team that had been sans two of their greatest stars, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, for the best part of two years.
It was not always easy with stalwarts like Vernon Philander and Morné Morkel also missing on occasion, while he also had to oversee the loss of form and eventual retirement from Test cricket by his good friend JP Duminy.
But through all this there was Du Plessis, chewing gum while he was doing it, leading from the front through performance and astute tactical acumen.
It all took its toll recently when he was forced to miss the Zimbabwe pink-ball Test after having a shoulder operation during the Bangladesh series, but he is back at the helm and ready to avenge the away defeat to India two years ago.
Crucially he will be able to launch this attack with all his main men alongside him. De Villiers is back in the frame and hungry for Test cricket, while Steyn is also champing at the bit to make his comeback.
In fact, such is the quality of personnel that the skipper said “this selection is probably one of the hardest that we are going to have to make”.
The biggest conundrum facing Du Plessis and Co is the make-up of the attack. The brave option would be to unleash all four fast bowlers, which would include Steyn, alongside left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj.
It would be a sign of great attacking intent, with the target of blowing away the Indian batsmen on a track that should assist the seamers throughout.
However, this tactic would be risky as it would allow for only six specialist batsmen, with wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock at No 6 and all-rounder Vernon Philander at No 7.
Considering South Africa’s batsmen – bar opener Dean Elgar – did not regularly stack up centuries in 2017 prior to the cannon fodder Bangladesh served up at the beginning of the summer, it would be the gambler’s choice.
The more conservative approach has Temba Bavuma batting at No 6, and considering the little man from Langa has a penchant for doing big things in tough situations, it might just be the right way to go.
This would though leave South Africa with just three specialist seamers and Maharaj, which has been the policy for the last 18 months.
This scenario would in all likelihood then leave Steyn on the outside.
The toss will be vitally important. It is likely to be one that each captain may prefer to lose, although Du Plessis does enjoy seeing his team front-up to the tough situations.
He did so with success at Trent Bridge when the ball was seaming around corners, and he may just ask his openers Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram again should he call correctly.
It is all set up for some very entertaining cricket. Thank heavens, for everyone has waited long enough.