Since Virat Kohli took over the captaincy reigns of the Indian Test team, the sub-continental side have lost just a single Test at home (against Australia at Pune in 2017). India have won all eight Test series since, with every opposition except Australia not coming close to even competing, let alone winning.
Touring India has often been described as the toughest challenge by the best of captains. While touring, teams often load themselves with spinners and batsmen who play spin well to compete, but the task at hand is easier said than done. While India have continuously pushed teams away from home, when the tables turn, the opposition is often found unprepared with both bat and ball.
India’s lone Test series defeat at home in the last decade came against England in 2012. England giants in Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen were able to keep the Indian spinners at bay while the Indian batsmen could not do the same against Graeme Swann. A defeat at home was the darkest moment of an underwhelming phase for a transitioning Team India. Stalwarts like Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had just retired after a whitewash in Australia and India’s greatest batsman Sachin Tendulkar was running on fumes.
Almost seven years to that day, India have been unchallenged at home. While batsmen have contributed heavily, the credit for this enviable record rides on the shoulders of two ‘Ravis’ – Ashwin and Jadeja.
The spin twins
Ravichandran Ashwin has been on a record-breaking spree since his Test debut. At 342 Test wickets so far, he was the fastest Indian bowler to reach all multiples of 50 Test wickets (50, 100, 150, 200, 250, 300). By taking his 300th Test scalp in his 54th Test, he became the fastest to reach the milestone in the history of Test cricket (overtaking Dennis Lillee who reached there in 56 Tests).
68% of his Test wickets have come at home. The impact of his performances have been such that he has already won more Man of the Series awards than any other Indian player (7). Even at the global scale, the percentage of his series-defining contributions are only next to Yasir Shah.
Ashwin’s partner in crime, - Ravindra Jadeja is an oddity in Test cricket. Deemed ‘Rockstar’ by Shane Warne during the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008 for his enthusiasm, Jadeja was perceived to be an ideal white-ball player. Such has been the arc of his Test career that he has moved swiftly from being the third spinner who can also bat to the most preferred spinner in the Indian Test team currently.
His record speaks for himself. Of all the leading wicket-taking spinners for India, Jadeja flaunts the best bowling average at home. A magnificent duo, Ashwin and him occupy the top two spots for lowest balls per wicket at home as well.
Their contributions do not end there. While Jadeja is among the best fielders in the world, both Ashwin and he are more than handy with the bat, especially at home. With them in the side, India field an XI that bats Test centurions at numbers eight and nine.
A solid middle-order
Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are among the top five Test batsmen in the world currently. Playing at home, India’s number three and four are different beasts. Of all the Indians who’ve played more than 20 Tests at home, Kohli and Pujara occupy the top two positions in terms of batting average.
Kohli at home: Matches – 34; Runs – 3,105; Average – 64.68; 100s – 11
Pujara at home: Matches – 36; Runs – 3,217; Average – 61.86; 100s – 10
With Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari striking form by scoring hundreds during the tour of West Indies, India’s middle-order looks daunting.
The only challenge for India will be at the top of the order where Mayank Agarwal will be opening for the first time at home and Rohit Sharma for the first time in his Test career.
Subcontinent – A troubling turf for the visitor’s current lot
Three of the 15 players in the South African squad are yet to make their Test debuts. Four others have played none or just one Test in the subcontinent.
A few big guns can counter inexperience at times, similar to what Steve Smith and the Australian bowlers did in England last month. However, this is where the actual problem lies for South Africa. None of the senior Test batsmen for the Proteas average even in the 30s in the subcontinent.
During their last tour of India, rank turners greeted South African batsmen and that has affected their numbers. However, these batsmen have largely struggled in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Sri Lanka as well (none of them average 35+ in either of these countries). If life was difficult in the UAE and Sri Lanka, facing the ‘Ravis’ in India is as difficult a challenge as any in Test cricket today.
The pluses for South Africa are world-class pacers in Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Vernon Philander. The duo is sure to test India’s top order until the ball loses its shine. The spin bowling responsibility shoulders on Keshav Maharaj who has played just two prior Tests in the subcontinent. South Africa will hope opener Aiden Markram builds on the confidence that he has gained from the century against India A in the practice match. in addition, since the start of 2016, captain Faf du Plessis averages a phenomenal 131.7 against off-spinners. That is bound to give the visitors some confidence. For India, it is just another opportunity to build on their insane home record.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli ©, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis ©, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Dane Piedt, Lungi Ngidi