NEW DELHI (Reuters) - For a visiting cricketer, an India tour conjures up the image of a batsman surrounded by a shoal of fielders and facing relentless spin from both ends and South Africa should not expect anything different in the four-test series starting on Thursday.
Since taking over from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli has proved he is anything but a shrinking violet and it is only natural that India would roll out turning tracks, if not outright dustbowls, in his first home series as test captain.
On Monday, Faf du Plessis had a look at the surface in Mohali to be used for the series-opener and the South African batsman got a fair idea of what to expect over the next four weeks.
“It looks dry than a pitch normally looks. That’s all I can say,” he said.
“We are expecting big spin on day one, and if we come to day one and it does that, it’s not a matter of, ‘Oh it’s spinning, what do we do now?'”
Having lost the Twenty20 and the one-day series to the Proteas, India will try and exploit every bit of their home advantage by rolling out slow, dry tracks that not only suit their spinners but can also take the sting out of South Africa’s redoubtable pace attack.
Team director Ravi Shastri had a spat with the curator at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium over the pitch on which South Africa plastered India in the final one-dayer and the former India captain is unlikely to get another chance to complain about the surface.
The series will be a battle of wits between two captains with contrasting approach to leadership.
If Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve, South Africa captain Hashim Amla belongs to the school that believes in suppressing emotions, if one has any.
Two completely different personalities, they, however, exhibit identical silken touch with the bat and remain the batting mainstays of their respective teams.
Amla has not been in the best of form since he embarked on the Proteas’ longest ever tour of India but he enjoys a staggering 100-plus average in tests in the Asian country.
AB de Villiers has already proved how much he loves Indian conditions in the limited-overs matches and his duel with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who missed most of the ODI series after suffering a side strain during the first match in Kanpur, will be an interesting sub-plot to the series.
Speedster Dale Steyn will be out to overcome the conditions and burnish his reputation as the premier fast bowler of his generation.
A personal milestone beckons the right-arm paceman, who needs 10 scalps to become the first overseas fast bowler to take 100 test wickets in Asia, quite a feat in a continent notoriously cold to the quicks.
Statistics also heavily favour the Proteas, currently the top ranked team, who have not lost an overseas test series since 2007.
The hosts’ chances of defying the odds would hinge on their batting but the Indian top order does not sport a stable look yet.
Murali Vijay, having recovered from a hamstring injury, is likely to partner Shikhar Dhawan at the top, while Cheteshwar Pujara’s usually compact defence and perfect temperament could be an asset against the firepower of Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.
As has traditionally been the case, pace bowling remains India’s weakest point. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav remain erratic while Bhuvneshwar Kumar is searching for the swing that made him a tricky bowler despite his modest pace.
Almost inevitably, India fall back on their spinners and the likes of Ashwin and Amit Mishra would welcome extra purchase from the track if India are to take 20 wickets in a test.
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly