India's 5 Burning Questions Ahead of Test Series in South Africa

Chris Teale@@chris_tealeFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

India's 5 Burning Questions Ahead of Test Series in South Africa

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    India’s two-match Test series away to South Africa begins on Wednesday, December 18, with the first game played at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

    However, the tourists have plenty of issues as they prepare to don their whites and take on the best Test side in the world on their home turf.

    Here are five questions that the Indians must consider ahead of what is a crucial couple of games between Test cricket’s No. 1 and No. 2 sides.

1. Have They Had Too Little Preparation?

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    In what is something of a curtailed tour of South Africa, India scheduled just one two-day game against a South African Invitational XI as preparation for the Test series.

    However, due to the enormous level of rainfall in Benoni, where the match was to be held, the ground staff had little option but to abandon the game without a ball being bowled.

    This leaves the question of whether India will be at all prepared for playing multi-day cricket again after their three-match One Day International series.

    Two ODIs with another abandoned due to rain does not seem like sufficient preparation for the intensity of Test cricket, so the Indians may find themselves unable to compete with the Proteas on home soil.

2. Have They Played Enough Test Cricket?

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    This year India have played just two Test series for a total of six matches, all of which were at home.

    While they won all six—against the West Indies in November and against Australia in February and March—it does raise questions about whether they have spent enough time playing red-ball cricket before this series against the best side in the world.

    Couple this with the fact that they have lost eight consecutive away Test matches, the signs are not good for good Indian performances in the upcoming series.

    Never known for being particularly good tourists, there must be a concern that they have not spent enough time playing five-day cricket to be truly ready for the biggest Tests of the year.

3. Will They Cope with Dale Steyn?

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    Another cause for concern for India comes in the shape of South African fast bowler Dale Steyn, the best bowler in the world in Test cricket.

    Steyn loves bowling against India, averaging 19.00 with the ball in 10 Tests against them and having taken four five-wicket hauls.

    Two of those five-wicket hauls have come on home soil, too, so Steyn will clearly be an enormous threat.

    It is up to India’s batsmen to work out how to play him effectively.

4. Will They Cope Without Sachin Tendulkar?

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    On the subject of India’s batsmen, there will be an enormous hole in their batting order for the first time on a regular basis since 1989 after Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement.

    To say his are enormous boots to fill is a tremendous understatement, and it is up to players such as Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma to step into the breach.

    There may be only two batsmen who have not tasted defeat on South African soil—Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay—but they will all be in for a stern test.

    Without Tendulkar, it seems as though that test will be that much harder, especially against Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

5. Have They Made the Right Bowling Choices?

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    Finally, India may be questioning if they have chosen the right bowlers to attack South Africa’s batsmen, especially with the recall of 35-year-old Zaheer Khan.

    While he has taken 13 wickets in three matches in the Ranji Trophy for Mumbai, questions remain about his fitness and his ability to get through a Test series, even a curtailed one such as this.

    Next to Khan, Ishant Sharma needs to live up to the hype that continues to surround him, but he struggled somewhat in the ODI series, despite picking up four wickets at the rain-soaked Centurion.

    It will be interesting to see if India’s fast bowling corps have the firepower to compete with their South African counterparts, especially the young Mohammed Shami on his first tour abroad.