India’s quest of winning their first-ever series in South Africa in men’s Test cricket history will come down to their batting. There are no ifs and buts there. The bowling led by Jasprit Bumrah has enough depth in every department but the performance of the batters is much harder to predict – and the issue is further compounded by the absence of the experienced Rohit Sharma, who had just seemed to have sorted out his Test game in England.

India skipper Virat Kohli considers SA conditions to be the most challenging for batting.

“South Africa presents a different challenge,” said Kohli before the Indian team left for SA. “The wickets have a lot of pace and bounce. You need to be at your absolute best to be able to perform there and get runs... get difficult runs. Something we have tried to do as a team but probably left ourselves a bit too much to do at certain times when sessions have gone very bad when they have gone bad.”

And that is probably the reason why India have struggled so much in the past. Their batters have never quite come to grips with the conditions. In 20 matches in South Africa, India have won just thrice but with the hosts lacking experienced players, this might be the best chance for Kohli and Co to win it all.

South Africa vs India: Coach Rahul Dravid on team combination, Virat Kohli’s love for Tests and more

India in SA

Mat Won Lost Tied Draw W/L Ave RPO Inns HS LS
20 3 10 0 7 0.300 26.00 2.84 39 459 66

India's away Test record (by win %)

Team Mat Win % Won Lost Draw
in Pakistan 26 7.69% 2 7 17
in England 66 13.64% 9 35 22
in South Africa 20 15.00% 3 10 7
in Australia 52 17.31% 9 30 13
in West Indies 51 17.65% 9 16 26
in New Zealand 25 20.00% 5 10 10
in Sri Lanka 24 37.50% 9 7 8
in Zimbabwe 6 50.00% 3 2 1
in Bangladesh 8 75.00% 6 0 2

Series results

Series Season Winner Margin
India in South Africa Test Series 1992/93 South Africa 1-0 (4)
India in South Africa Test Series 1996/97 South Africa 2-0 (3)
India in South Africa Test Series 2001/02 South Africa 1-0 (2)
India in South Africa Test Series 2006/07 South Africa 2-1 (3)
India in South Africa Test Series 2010/11 drawn 1-1 (3)
India in South Africa Test Series 2013/14 South Africa 1-0 (2)
Freedom Trophy (India in South Africa) 2017/18 South Africa 2-1 (3)

Among the current group of batters, Kohli (avg 55.80) and Rahane (avg 53.20) have managed to get some good runs under their belt on the past tours and that is probably the reason why the team might back the latter too for the first Test. The last match they played in South Africa was one of India’s best wins away from home in recent times and Rahane played a solid role in it alongside Kohli.

Pujara has also played a fair bit in South Africa as well and his experience will be vital for the team. At the end of the day though, in tough conditions, a team contribution is the need of the hour.

“These kind of series are won by good team performances, everyone needs to play their part,” said India coach Rahul Dravid on the eve of the match. “You can’t just rely on a Kohli or a Pujara, if you want to be successful we need contributions from all of the top seven and even the lower order, we know the value of their contributions in games that can be lower-scoring than other parts of the world.”

Dravid added: “Puji’s an important part of the lineup as is anyone else, not focussed on one name. Very rare that in series like these that one person is able to score in every single game and dominate. I’d love that to happen from our side, but we need contributions from everyone.

Best Indian batters in SA

Player Span Mat Runs HS Ave 100 50
SR Tendulkar 1992-2011 15 1161 169 46.44 5 3
R Dravid 1996-2011 11 624 148 29.71 1 2
VVS Laxman 1997-2011 10 566 96 40.42 0 4
V Kohli 2013-2018 5 558 153 55.80 2 2
SC Ganguly 1996-2007 8 506 73 36.14 0 4
CA Pujara 2010-2018 7 411 153 31.61 1 2
V Sehwag 2001-2011 8 382 105 25.46 1 1
MS Dhoni 2006-2013 7 370 90 28.46 0 1
M Azharuddin 1992-1997 7 280 115 23.33 1 1
M Vijay 2010-2018 6 278 97 23.16 0 1
AM Rahane 2013-2018 3 266 96 53.20 0 2
G Gambhir 2010-2011 2 242 93 60.50 0 3

India’s top bowler in South Africa (in terms of wickets) is a spinner. Anil Kumble took 45 wickets at a pretty decent average of 32.02. It is a statistic that more than anything else tells you about the Indian team’s struggles to find quality pacers in the past, who can consistently be world class.

But now with a pace attack that has travelled very well in the last few years, India will expect to make quicker inroads against an inexperienced South African batting line-up. On the last tour, SA could still fall back on the genius of AB de Villiers but this time around, expect a dog fight.

Shami has played five Tests in SA, Ishant has played seven, Bumrah logs in at three and Ashwin has three against his name as well. They have all been around for a while too and that should allow them to adjust to the conditions quickly if required.

Shami and Bumrah, given their record in SA, will hold the key but it will be just as important for the other bowlers to support them well. The wildcard could well be Mohammed Siraj, who has the ability to bowl at good pace while producing enough movement to get the wickets. Bumrah was thrust with the responsibility in Test cricket as he made his debut last time around and he has grown leaps and bounds since, Siraj is already a force to reckon with in his brief career and could make his mark in South Africa too if he finds the right lengths quickly.

Best Indian bowlers in SA

Player Mat Wkts Ave Econ SR
A Kumble 12 45 32.02 2.26 84.7
J Srinath 8 43 25.27 2.92 51.9
Z Khan 8 30 35.60 3.40 62.7
S Sreesanth 6 27 28.55 3.60 47.5
Mohammed Shami 5 21 24.71 3.27 45.2
I Sharma 7 20 40.00 3.17 75.5
Harbhajan Singh 4 18 34.00 3.19 63.7
BKV Prasad 3 17 25.00 3.48 43.0
JJ Bumrah 3 14 25.21 3.14 48.0
B Kumar 2 10 20.30 3.02 40.2
M Prabhakar 4 9 43.22 2.70 96.0
N Kapil Dev 4 8 37.37 1.81 123.7
R Ashwin 3 7 46.14 2.72 101.5

Still, at the end of the day, a series can come down to which team players the big moments better. Under Kohli, in the last few years, India have shown themselves to be a team that does just that. When you count them out, they find a way to stand up again. They have had to bounce back from being pushed into a corner though, but can they dominate from the word go here and put Dean Elgar and Co under early pressure?

In South Africa, India will need to find a way to be consistently good from the word go. And if they can, they’ll make history once again.


South Africa (likely): Dean Elgar (captain), Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wkt), Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi.

India (from): Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Shreyas Iyer, Risabh Pant (wkt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav, Jayant Yadav, Priyank Panchal, Wriddhiman Saha (wkt).

Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Adrian Holdstock (both RSA).

TV umpire: Allahuddien Paleker (RSA).

Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).

Match starts at 1.30 pm IST and is live on the Star Sports network in India.

All stats for men’s Test matches, courtesy ESPNCricinfo Statsguru