Any home series for India these days, they start as overwhelming favourites. They have dominated at home over the years and with South Africa visiting their shores for a three-match Test series, it promises to be the same. However, South Africa will play their first Test series in India since 2015 and there are a lot of notable absentees. No more than the trio of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn.
A contribution of 24.28% of South Africa’s runs since Amla’s debut in 2004, speaks volumes of the legacy the bearded-genius has left behind – A legacy difficult to supersede and will be etched in South Africa’s folklore forever.
Not to forget, Steyn – South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in Tests with 439 scalps was a lethal weapon on his day and unleashed spells that left the best batsmen gasping. What made him so good was the rate at which he struck. Since his debut in 2004 (alongside de Villiers) he has the best strike-rate among bowlers who have picked up at least 200 wickets.
However, if we reduce the cut-off to 100 wickets since Steyn’s debut, Kagiso Rabada’s strike-rate of 38.8 is the best among all bowlers, above Steyn, who gets a wicket every 42.3 deliveries. While South Africa seem to have found a worthy successor in the fast bowling department, the Proteas have a huge hole to fill in the middle-order, where Amla and de Villiers dominated for over a decade.
Nobody has taken more wickets for South Africa in India than Steyn (26). In fact, among the top five wicket-takers in India, there are four pacers in the list, further emphasizing it has been their quicker bowlers, who have done a lot of damage – be it Steyn’s 7 for 51 at Nagpur or Lance Klusener’s 8 for 64 at Eden Gardens.
Even this time, South Africa have Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje other than Rabada to inflict enough damage. To give them support, they also possess Keshav Maharaj, who was more than a handful in Sri Lanka and off-spinner Dane Piedt, who is returning to Test cricket after a span of three years.
South Africa have no time to ponder about their past as they begin their campaign in the World Test Championship (WTC). While they may not have their stalwarts, they will have to turn their attention in grooming players for the future.
It will be a great opportunity even for someone like Temba Bavuma. At 5’3” one could easily underestimate him, but, he has showed that he is a gritty campaigner, who will not be intimidated by anyone. The only thing that may go against him is the fact that he does not have many big scores to his name. Just one century and 13 fifties from 59 innings could have seen many players being dropped from the national side, much like Ajinkya Rahane – whose place was in jeopardy after he had failed to score a century in two years. But South Africa have backed the dimunitive batsman and he will have to come good, beginning with this series.
Bavuma has played just five matches in the subcontinent – just one of those in India – it will be a huge task for him to tackle Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who have been pioneers in India’s dominance at home in the last 4 to 5 years. Out of his seven dismissals in Asia, he has been dismissed by off-spinners and left-arm orthodox three and two times respectively.
While Bavuma has an experience of 36 Tests, the other new entrants Theunis de Bruyn and Zubayr Hamza have a combined experience of 10 Tests between them. De Bruyn showed terrific temperament in Sri Lanka when he scored a patient 101 at No. 3 and played diligently against the spin quartet of Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Akila Dananjaya and Dhananjaya de Silva. South Africa will hope that he has a similar approach in this series as well and negate the spinners with ease.
Like de Bruyn, Hamza too comes into the side at the back of some impressive performances in First-Class cricket. In the last four seasons excluding the 2019-20 season, Hamza has scored 2,409 runs at 47.23, while du Bruyn has hit 1,499 runs at 41.63. Modest numbers, but that does not mean that they will have an under par international career.
However, it is going to be difficult to replicate or even come close to someone like Amla and de Villiers.
It will be a tough road ahead for the Proteas. There is a huge void to fill in the batting as well as the bowling department. While these are exciting times for the team, there is also a lingering uncertainty in the air when it comes to filling the void. Regardless, South Africa will have to start somewhere and they begin in one of the toughest places to travel in recent times – India.