India have won six Tests in-a-row at home, but their last eight Tests away from home have resulted in defeats © IANS
India have won six Tests in-a-row at home, but their last eight Tests away from home have resulted in defeats © IANS

 

By Karthik Parimal

 

Although Christmas is just a few weeks away, a sense of anticipation has engulfed India’s festive season, at least for now. Teams, irrespective of formidability, have no doubt been trampled at home during recent times. The final logistics of the long process of transition was apparently complete with the lately concluded series against West Indies. Well-deserved goodbyes were bid and rich tributes paid. The focus now turns to the next generation; to their on-field capabilities. The time to put to test the newly, but meticulously, developed battalion, soon commences, and first up is an opposition that perhaps houses some of the best players in the world at the moment.

 

The last few months saw India’s new mantle owners excel in their roles. After the glitch against England at home last winter, six Test matches were won rather flawlessly by MS Dhoni’s men. Stalwarts bid adieu, but the rookies surged to the fore quite impressively. In the interim, the same set of players also bagged the ICC Champions Trophy 2013, a One-Day International (ODI) tournament, held away from home. However, these performances did not, and perhaps cannot, yet quell the apprehension of India’s ability to cope with alien conditions. The eight consecutive losses away from home in the longer format of the game is a memory that isn’t yet scrubbed from the back of one’s mind.

 

And that is why the upcoming series against South Africa, despite the truncation, is worthy of attention. Much has been said of India’s solidity, but only a line-up as stern as the one they’re pitted against will reflect their recent progress, if any. Against Australia they were faced with bowlers who were either inconsistent or yet to blossom. West Indies’ attack was seldom going to pose a threat and they did little to change that notion over the course of one week. Moreover, both those series were held in familiar confines. South Africa, though, is sure to pull India out of its comfort zone and look to inflict a few good punches.

 

But there have been glimpses of this Indian outfit standing up to quality, too. Furthermore, the young crop refuse to be easily intimidated, a fact reiterated by Allan Donald himself. What remains to be seen is if they can stand their ground for a considerable length of time. Three ODIs and two Tests can hardly be used to deduce or concretise anything, although it does give a sneak peek into the current standing of a team. There is time enough to draw first blood, which is what this inexperienced Indian team will look to draw out over a span of one month.

 

India will also have to contend with the less-than-friendly reception they’re likely to receive from the South African crowd, which is understandable considering what transpired between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) of late. The New Year’s Test in Cape Town was tinkered with, too — a move that’s sure to instigate some comments hurled at the side. The Indian team may not have any say in the recent spate of events involving the two boards, but as representatives of the country, the players will be subject to direct public opinion, something that could be a factor during the course of the short series.

 

India’s chinks in the armour are no secret and the South Africans must already have chalked out plans on how to exploit them. Short-pitched deliveries may not pose as big a conundrum as the bowling department. Spinners have steered India to a match-winning position more often than not on sub-continent turfs, this despite the insipidity from the seamers. Whether they can replicate the same away from home will make for a good debate, for in their hands lies India’s bowling fortunes, and perhaps even the series. It could, by all means, be a reality check for these spinners currently perched on a pedestal after recent performances.

 

Last season’s results at home have indicated that India has most bases covered to extract wins. But a question mark has always hovered around their ability to dish out similar figures against first-rate opposition, or in unfamiliar territory. This series provides a platform to placate what ensued during India’s last two travels overseas. Besides, a good outing can also set them up for the upcoming tours of New Zealand and, more importantly, England in the July of 2014 quite nicely. Can this turn out to be an extended festive season for this new-look Indian unit?

 

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)