India’s status as the world’s number one Test team will face a fierce examination when they come up against second-ranked South Africa in a three-Test series which starts at Newlands on Friday.
South Africa will be banking on their formidable fast bowling attack to dismantle India’s strong batting line-up but after nine successive Test series wins India are brimming with confidence –- and a belief that they can thrive in any conditions.
Six of India’s winning series were played at home and the others – two in Sri Lanka and one in the West Indies –- were in conditions where fast bowling was not a major factor.
The last time India lost a series was when they were beaten 2-0 in Australia in a four-match contest in 2014/15 but it was a series which showed India’s batsmen could stand up to raw pace on hard, bouncy pitches.
They scored more than 400 in each of their first innings, losing the first two Tests before drawing the last two.
“The tour to Australia is the one that laid a great foundation for this team,” said Indian captain Virat Kohli during his arrival press conference last week.
Kohli hit four centuries in that series and it marked the start of his captaincy, initially in a stand-in capacity in two of the Tests in Australia but afterwards on a full-time basis when Mahendra Singh Dhoni retired from Test cricket.
India have a poor record in South Africa, losing five out of six series with one drawn, and winning only two out of 17 Test matches against eight defeats and seven draws.
Significantly, though, they have pushed South Africa hard on their two most recent tours, in 2010/11 and 2013/14, sharing the first series and narrowly losing the second.
Thirteen of the 2013/14 tourists are in the current party and they are a vastly more experienced squad who have become accustomed to winning.
Both teams have selection dilemmas.
South Africa have to make room for returning captain Faf du Plessis in their batting order and will have to decide on their best bowling line-up.
Fast bowler Chris Morris will vie with medium-pacer Andile Phehlukwayo as an all-rounder to augment an expected pace attack of Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada.
India have to choose between Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan as an opening batting partner for Murali Vijay, while in pace-friendly conditions there may be room for only one specialist spinner, meaning that one of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, a match-winning combination in India, could miss out.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (captain), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Theunis de Bruyn, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris, Andile Phehlukwayo, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wkt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Parthiv Patel (wkt), Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.
Umpires: Michael Gough, Richard Kettleborough (both ENG)
TV umpire: Paul Reiffel (AUS)
Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)