CAPE TOWN – There is something different about this Indian team. Gone are the great batsmen who despite all their individual elegance and class still collectively wear the scars from heavy overseas series defeats.
They have been replaced by a highly-skilled group reared in the Indian Premier League where reputations mean nothing.
Instead of preparing for Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini from television footage like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly used to do in a previous era, the IPL has enabled the current crop the confidence to face Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris without any fear.
It certainly is transparent in the build-up to this first Test on Friday at Newlands. It is not arrogance, but simply a good dose of confidence.
Coupled with the fact that to likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara are no longer upstarts either, allows the tourists the belief that they be on the verge of something special.
Pujara, for instance, is on his third tour to South Africa already, and ready to go one further than the legends of yesteryear by powering India to their maiden series victory in South Africa.
“I think it is a good thing that most of our players have been here before. I think experience is the most important. Personally, I have been here in 2010-11 and 2013-14, so I think it is about knowing the game, knowing the conditions. You just need to apply yourself,” Pujara told reporters at Newlands on Tuesday.
“Once you play in these conditions you know what to expect from the pitch, what to expect from the opposition. Nothing can match experience. Once you have scored some runs in these conditions, once you have spent some time on such pitches you know what do you want to do as a batsman and even as a team.”
Although not an IPL superstar like the majority of his teammates, Pujara is almost old-fashioned in terms of being a Test specialist. He is criticised for his scoring rate sometimes, but within the confines of the Indian dressing room, they fully appreciate his ability to occupy the crease for long periods of time.
The South African attack are well versed in this ability. On the last tour here, Pujara spent seven minutes shy of six hours at the Wanderers crease when he compiled a superb 153. He followed it up with another 70 in Durban.
A feature of Pujara’s innings’ was the judgement he showed outside the off stump, which forced the South African bowlers to attack his stumps. This resulted in easy pickings with Pujara striking the ball through the leg-side with aplomb.
“It is always important to leave the ball well, especially when you play overseas. Once you move out of India or Asian soil, there is enough bounce and that’s the reason one should be able to leave the ball well,” the soon-to-be father said.
“Bounce will always be a challenge. But I think this time we have done enough preparation and we would like to back ourselves and just execute the things we have tried in the last one and a half months.”
Pujara has played only one Test at Newlands before, but is certainly looking forward to turning out again at South Africa’s marquee Test venue.
“It is one of the most scenic grounds after Dharamsala. I have always enjoyed playing in South Africa. Somehow I like playing on such wickets. Personally there’s always a challenge and I feel if you play in any challenging situation you grow as a cricketer, you get matured. When you succeed in such conditions you feel much better,” he said.