Sachin Tendulkar is backing the Indian cricket team to win its first Test series in South Africa.
The retired cricket icon, who has six Test hundreds against the Proteas, feels India have the experience and balance to come good in South Africa’s testing conditions. The first Test will be played in Cape Town from January 5.He spoke to Hindustan Times exclusively on Tuesday.
India will be on the road for most of 2018. Do you think this will be toughest phase for Virat Kohli’s Team India?
Yes. It will be a good challenge to play in seaming conditions in South Africa and England. It’s about the Indian team and not about any individual. As a team India is very well prepared.
Do you reckon Virat Kohli will be under pressure as a captain and batsman?
Virat Kohli will succeed if the team succeeds. Virat should just play his normal game and stick to the basics. The team should rally around him. India can only succeed if they can put up good totals. Runs will matter and not only Virat, but the entire team has to contribute. So, it’s not only about Virat Kohli.
You said the current team has the perfect balance. Could you elaborate?
In my 24 years with the Indian Test team we never had the balance this team has. The man who brings in such versatility is Hardik Pandya. A guy who can bowl 17-18 overs and is perfectly capable of scoring runs at No 7 or 8 is an asset. This is going to be Pandya’s biggest series and Virat will be banking on him.
Why Pandya is an asset?
Simply because he can do the job of the fourth seamer, bat like a good middle-order batsman and is a good fielder. For the first time India can afford to play with three genuine seamers. Never before could we think of three pacers and a fourth one to fall back on — not even during Kapil Dev’s time could we enjoy this luxury. At best we would play with three quicks with Manoj Prabhakar being one of them. But this team is just so well balanced.
There is lot of talk about South Africans bouncing India out of the Tests. How much will mental strength matter?
I don’t think our players are scared of either pace or bounce. They may have played a lot of cricket on Indian wickets but that doesn’t mean they are not equipped to play on quick surfaces. Our batsmen are mentally very strong.
Is this India’s best chance to beat South Africa in their den?
South Africa will miss a lot of experience. There are a lot of new faces who are largely untested. Old guns like Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis are coming off injuries or were indisposed. So there is a definite experience vacuum in the South Africa team and India must exploit that.
Dale Steyn is doubtful for the first Test in Cape Town.
That’s going to be a big setback for South Africa. Their pace attack is at the weakest now with Steyn rusty, and Philander and Morkel still not at their best. South Africa will miss Steyn more than anything else because he is one man who can strike upfront, bowl in the right areas and break partnerships. In Test cricket, it is difficult to come in straightaway and make the ball talk.
How big a factor will AB de Villiers be?
Massive. If South Africa have to be successful, then De Villiers and Hashim Amla must score in every match. Du Plessis is the third man in the pecking order, but it’s about De Villiers and Amla. If India can get them out early, then that’s a big job done. De Villiers is the key man for sure. South Africa will now feel the absence of a Kallis, Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher.
How much will slip catching play a role in Tests?
Extremely decisive, but let me tell you India will be better off on South African wickets where the ball will come at a good pace and height. They can stand back and wait for the ball to come. In India, we can’t do this as the balls come low and we have to stand closer to the wickets.
What’s your first XI for the first Test?
That’s a difficult one. All I can say is KL Rahul is a capable opener. I haven’t seen much of him, but Rahul is well equipped to handle the South African bowlers. All batsmen go through good and bad patches. So, current form can at best be a pointer but all depends on the pitch that is on offer. Even bowlers can have off days. Overall, India have enough firepower and they should come out trumps.