It will be daft to underestimate Dale Steyn: Aakash Chopra
Test cricket is in the era of home dominance. Most teams are reasonably good at home and, almost all of them, are quite pedestrian overseas. The two most-talked about theories to explain the same are: 1) There isn't enough time for acclimatisation before the Test tour starts and 2) There aren't any friendly matches between Tests (something that's deemed necessary for players to find lost form).
Dale Steyn. Pic/Getty Images
While I agree with both these theories, the fact is that the excess of limited overs cricket has had a detrimental affect on players' adaptability and technique. Since most ODIs and T20s are played on identical surfaces, modern day cricketers are not forced to mould their games to suit all kinds of conditions.
Like always, there's an exception to the rule too. South Africa has proved that it's indeed possible to excel in all formats and in all conditions. They haven't lost a single overseas Test series in the last nine years and it's not that they've been escaping with drawn games, for they've won almost everywhere too.
They've toured Australia, England and India twice in the same period and have managed to tame the hosts in their own backyard, and that speaks volumes about their versatility.
The Indian team also went through a brief period of doing well overseas but since their success was built around batting, it didn't last long. South Africa, on the other hand, has succeeded with their superior bowling. They've always had the attack to take 20 wickets in all conditions and, of course, had the batting to score the necessary runs too.
SA's potent attack
This time isn't looking too different either, for the South African attack is still looking as potent as ever. Dale Steyn becomes a different beast with a red ball in his hand and their bowling will revolve around him.
Even though the pitches are unlikely to suit the pacers, it'll be downright foolish to underestimate his threat. To give him company there's Morne Morkel who has the uncanny ability to extract extra bounce on most pitches.
Vernon Philander, despite the outstanding Test numbers, is their weakest link in the pace-bowling department and it'll be interesting to see how he responds to Indian pitches. Imran Tahir's spin will keep the Indian curators honest, for he might run through on rank turners.
Where does India's best hope to stop their juggernaut lie? Well, a little bit of history to start with. India is the only country where South Africa hasn't managed to win a Test series in the last nine years.
In fact, out of their five overseas Test losses in the same period, two have come against India. And they've shown a certain degree of vulnerability against spin in the recently concluded ODI series too. While it would be prudent to prepare pitches that are 'spin-ready' from the first day itself, I'd be slightly wary to dish out rank-turners from the first game.
The wounds inflicted by Moeen Ali, Nathan Lyon and more recently Rangana Herath are still fresh in my memory. When the Indians 'used to be' quality players against spin, it was a given that they would bowl and play spin better than the opponents but there are no such guarantees nowadays.
Hence, it'll be wise for India to tread with a little caution in the beginning, allow the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma to find Test form and then move in for the kill. Kohli's captaincy will also come under severe scrutiny, for leading a young team against a well-oiled unit will not just test his resources but also his resolve.