Will spin win it for India?

With a spin-heavy attack and batsmen ready to handle the fiery Dale Steyn and Co., India are all set to take on the mighty South Africans.

Indian spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin (left), Ravindra Jadeja (centre) and Amit Mishra (right) during a practice session at Mohali. The trio could hold the key to India's fortunes in the series.   -  PTI

Cheteshwar Pujara... India's best bet at No. 3?   -  REUTERS

The limited-overs leg of the South African tour of India may have been intense, but considering the visitors’ greater credentials in Tests, India could regard it as warm-up ahead of the bigger battles. South Africa have stumbled occasionally in one-day internationals, and more recently against Bangladesh, they lost the three-match ODI series 2-1. They have found ways, however, to stay unbeatable in Tests overseas for almost nine years.

The relaxing factor for India could perhaps be the comfort of home, where the hosts can assume control with spin. However, the expertise of Steyn and Co. in these conditions would be a big advantage for South Africa. The soothing weather with the onset of winter in the country will also aid the visitors.

What will be India’s best batting line-up against the testing pace of South Africa?

K. L. Rahul, the Karnataka batsman, had scored a century against a decent bowling attack comprising Mitchell Starc, Ryan Harris, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon, albeit in batting-friendly conditions in Sydney, in his debut series early this year. But considering that Murali Vijay has built a reputation for scoring runs home and away, and Shikhar Dhawan has been in good form with two centuries in his last two Tests, Rahul may remain the reserve opener.

The clash between Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma for the No. 3 spot could be a ‘happy headache’ for the Indian team management, as the Team Director, Ravi Shastri, suggested. But then, it needs to be solved.

For sometime, Pujara had been getting out after registering modest scores. He was not picked for the only Test against Bangladesh in June and the first two Tests of the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in August. However, in the third Test in Colombo, in seaming conditions, Pujara expertly grafted his way to a match-winning century.

Pujara has also excelled against South Africa in South African conditions favouring pace and bounce on the 2013-14 tour. This tilts the balance in his favour, as against Rohit who has been inconsistent.

Ajinkya Rahane is in flowing form. A proven rock in conditions outside the comfort zone for most Indian batsmen, he is likely to bat at No. 5. He will be preceded by Virat Kohli, while wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha should come in at No. 6.

As in the recently concluded T20 and ODI series between the two sides, the No. 7 will be a matter of prime consideration. Shastri has expressed the preference for a spin-bowling all-rounder for Indian conditions. His selection would give India the security of three spinners to exploit the home advantage.

With Ravindra Jadeja in the squad, he is likely to be included in the playing XI. Not only has Jadeja won India matches in similar conditions — as in the Tests against Australia in early 2013 — he is also in prime bowling form now. The left-arm spinner, who took 37 wickets in his first three Ranji Trophy matches for Saurashtra this season, can provide handy support to Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra, who, between them, took 36 wickets in the three Tests against Sri Lanka in August-September this year.

There will be some assistance for the seamers in Mohali (first Test: November 5-9) and Delhi (fourth Test: December 3-7) due to the cold weather that will help the pitch retain the moisture for short periods. However, Tests at these venues in recent times have largely been dominated by spin. The last time a Test was held in Mohali, Dhawan cracked a stunning century on debut and the Indian spinners claimed 14 wickets to send Australia hurtling to their third defeat in three Tests.

Kohli and Shastri have encouraged their young team to exhibit an ‘aggressive’ disposition in Tests, which is to push for victory rather than ensure prevention of a defeat. India will be well served towards that end with a spin-heavy attack and the batsmen ready to face the fast bowling might of South Africa.

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