The Indian team will start 2018 with a gruelling three-Test series against South Africa, the first of them scheduled to start in Cape Town on January 5. Pitches in South Africa have been known to assist the faster bowlers, and India seem to have that area covered with a slew of proven performers.
Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar form the five-pronged pace battery from which Virat Kohli can make his pick. Bhuvneshwar, who has generally been the go-to man when conditions have been pacer-friendly, looked forward to the challenge ahead.
“We would love to bowl in these conditions,” Bhuvneshwar told reporters at the Western Province Cricket Club on Sunday (December 31), India’s second day of training. The visitors were driven indoors by rain in the morning, but returned to outdoor nets and practice when the sun broke through in the afternoon. There was good news for Kohli’s men with Shikhar Dhawan, who had hobbled on to the plane four days back with an ankle strain, going through his paces with little discomfort.
“We cannot say what kind of wicket we will get in the match,” Bhuvneshwar went on. “But we know the general conditions in South Africa, so we are preparing according to that. We just want to prepare our best, that’s all we want.”
Having opted against a two-day warm-up game, the Indian team arranged two practice sessions on Saturday. The reason for two sessions, Bhuvneshwar pointed out, was to work on the basics and get into Test mode. “We did two sessions just to get into the groove of the Test match,” he said. “You play a six-hour (each day) Test match. We just wanted to bowl as long as possible to get into that mode. We didn’t do anything different, we wanted to go through our basics.
“The first thing that changes (from India) is the bounce, I won’t say it swings in South Africa. It doesn’t swing much, but the bounce is something every fast bowler enjoys. That’s something we really wanted to practice. We wanted to cover all the basic things. Whenever there is extra bounce, where to bowl, what field we can have to get them out — these are the little things we wanted to do in the practice session.”
The Indian pace attack, bolstered by Hardik Pandya, the allrounder, will be complemented by the spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. It is widely considered one of the most balanced Indian attacks to tour South Africa. Bhuvneshwar, however, emphasised that for India to win their first series in that country, everyone needed to be at his best.
“Everyone is confident,” he stated. “Whenever any team tours abroad, there is a great chance to win those series, but you have to give your best in every department on all five days. This team has done well in the last two and a half years, so we are confident doing well in these conditions. But yes, like I said, we have to be at our best to win the series here.”
A majority of India’s Tests in the last two years have come at home, where the faster bowlers have enjoyed the more pronounced seam that the SG Test ball offers, as well as its tendency to go reverse as early as the 10th or 11th over. The Kookaburra that will be used in South Africa will be an entirely different cup of tea, Bhuvneshwar cautioned.
“The first thing that comes to our mind when we come to South Africa is bouncy wickets, seaming wickets but there is no surety that we are going to get those wickets,” Bhuvneshwar pointed out. “The Kookaburra is one of the toughest balls to bowl with. It doesn’t do much after 25-30 overs. These are the kind of situations we are tackling in the practice session.
“Maybe a couple of days before the Test match, we will see how we can go into the Test match, or what are the things we can bring into the Test match regarding strategies, their batsmen,” he went on. “Right now, we are trying to do our basic things.”
Predictably, Bhuvneshwar sidestepped a question on the biggest South African batting threat. “If you look at their batting line-up, everyone has done well,” he said. “I cannot pick a name. If I start picking names, I will probably pick 10-15 names. That won’t be possible. It is about who is in good form, who is in a good nick and it is all about how the bowlers do against them, according to their strengths and weaknesses.”