Pretoria: India go in search of history when they face hosts South Africa in two Tests starting in Pretoria on Tuesday, hoping to claim a first ever series victory in a country where they have come close before only to fall agonisingly short.
South Africa have been victors in seven of India’s eight visits since the first in 1992 with one series drawn in 2010/11, but six of those successes have been by a single win margin.
The tourists may now feel they have never had a better chance. This South African side does not have the experience and quality with bat and ball of those of years gone by, and their top six in particular can be brittle.
Late fitness tests
They also face late fitness tests for key fast bowlers Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, who could be a handful on what is expected to be a lively Centurion Park pitch in the first test, before the tour moves to Newlands in Cape Town for the second fixture from Jan. 3.
“If it was possible to make this even bigger, the fact that India have never won here does that,” South Africa coach Shukri Conrad said. “We certainly want to hold on to that proud record.
“There are so many matchups that this series hinges on. It’s two tests, so it’s high pressure. You go 1-0 down and you can’t win the series. You go 1-0 up, you can’t lose. It’s going to be like a heavyweight boxing bout.” India have some injured absentees but remain a formidable side with back-to-back series successes in Australia giving them the belief they can conquer this particular Everest.
Leading seamer Mohammed Shami is not fit, while batter Ruturaj Gaikwad is also out with an injured finger. Virat Kohli flew home for personal reasons this week, but is expected to be back for the first test.
Quite remarkably, South Africa have not drawn a Test at home since a rain-affected game against New Zealand in 2016, a run of 32 matches that has yielded 24 wins and eight defeats.
That is testament to the steady weather, positive cricket they play and the pitches, which are among the most challenging in the world for batters with swing, seam and spin all generally on offer through the five days.
“It is a challenging place to bat; the statistics will tell you that,” India coach Rahul Dravid told Star Sports. “Every one of the batters will have a game plan as to how they want to go, and as long as they are clear about it and they commit to it and are practising towards that, that’s fine.
“We don’t expect everyone to play in the same way. We want them to be very clear about what works for them, and then be able to execute that.”