Buoyant South Africa will look to continue their amazing nine-year unbeaten run in away Test series when they begin a four-match contest against Virat Kohli’s India in Mohali from Thursday.
The Proteas, the world’s top-ranked Test side, have not lost a series away from home since Ashwell Prince’s team suffered a 2-0 defeat in Sri Lanka in 2006.
They lived up to their reputation of being good travellers on bilateral tours by winning both the Twenty20 and one-day series on the current 10-week sojourn through India.
South Africa go into the Tests seeking their first series win on Indian soil in 15 years, having drawn 1-1 on their last two tours in 2008 and 2010.
Star batsman AB de Villiers, who hit three centuries in the one-day series and followed that with 112 in a practice match in Mumbai ahead of the first Test, was excited at the contests ahead.
“We are very hungry for success, hungry to create history,” he said. “We love travelling abroad and that’s where our team spirit kicks in and plays a role.
“It was an incredible achievement by us to win both the limited-overs series and there is no reason we can’t win the Test series. But we know a lot of hard work lies ahead.
“India will want to come back harder and stronger, and we know they have the ability to do that, but we will be up for it.”
South Africa will rely on de Villiers and Test skipper Hashim Amla to score heavily on dry wickets that are expected to be tailor-made for India’s spinners.
De Villiers and Amla have scored 44 Test centuries between them — more than the entire young Indian team under Kohli has managed in their short careers so far.
– Home comforts –
While de Villiers is in stupendous form, Amla will seek to overcome a lean streak in the one-day series where he scored just 89 runs at an average of 17.80.
Amla, one of the finest batsmen of our times, has in the past enjoyed playing in India where in six previous Tests he scored 823 runs at an average of 102.87 with four centuries.
Meanwhile, India return to the comforting environs of a home Test for the first time in two years after being battered in England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand on recent tours.
India enjoy an impressive record on home soil where they have won 12 of the last 17 series and lost just one — against Alastair Cook’s England in 2012.
Kohli’s men carved out a credible 2-1 win in Sri Lanka in August after losing the first Test, but South Africa will be a tougher proposition.
With three spinners in their ranks and pace spearhead Ishant Sharma serving a one-Test ban for bad behaviour during the last match in Sri Lanka, India hope to get a turning wicket in Mohali.
The Indian team management was annoyed at being presented with a run-laden pitch for the deciding one-dayer in Mumbai last month, where South Africa won by 214 runs after piling up a massive 438-4.
India’s chief grounds inspector Daljit Singh, asked about the likely nature of pitches for the Tests, responded: “We are working on result-oriented wickets with the element of home advantage.”
India (from): Virat Kohli (capt), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Amit Mishra, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Lokesh Rahul, Stuart Binny, Varun Aaron.
South Africa (from): Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers, Temba Bavuma, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Simon Harmer, Imran Tahir, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Vilas.