South Africa is one country where India have always been found out. Only two victories out of 17 Test matches in the Rainbow Nation, is a clear reflection of their struggle on those wickets, where there has been a plenty of pace, bounce and sideways movement for the fast bowlers, both in the air and off the pitch. In fact, in international cricket, for any team, winning a Test series in South Africa is regarded as one of the toughest challenges and no team barring England and Australia have achieved this glory so far.
Hence, prior to such a high-profile assignment, your preparations have to be full-proof if you are going there with a realistic chance of winning a series — which according to many experts, Virat Kohli’s Indian team has on this occasion.
However, a team’s fortune doesn’t only depend on potentials. It needs proper pre-tour planning, back-up by proper implementations and from that point of view India will be on the backfoot at the start the three-Test series in South Africa, thanks to BCCI’s apathy towards providing the boys enough time for acclimatisation on those alien conditions.
The Indian team will reach South Africa on December 29, just a week before the first Test in Cape Town from January 5 and their only opportunity of getting some match practice will be a two-day game at Paarl.
Well, thankfully, here at least they are getting a game, unlike the previous tours. Back in 2010, when India drew the series 1-1, there was no warm-up fixture. In 2013, the tour was started with three ODIs and the lone practice game before the Test series was abandoned due to rain. India lost the two-Test series 1-0 after securing a draw in the first Test.
In fact, when it comes to providing enough preparation time for tours of South Africa, Australia and England, BCCI has always struggled. Maybe they are hardly concerned about it. For them, commitment towards the broadcasters and sponsors are more important than spending money and time on the preparations for any tour.
In 2011, when MS Dhoni’s India lost 0-4 in England, they had landed in London after playing non-stop cricket starting with the World Cup, IPL and a full tour to the West Indies. To acclimatise themselves to the English conditions, they got just one three-day game before the first Test and one in the middle of the series.
Later that year, in Australia, they were again whitewashed in the four-Test series. There too they played one two-day followed by one three-day game before the first Test.
Following these series of overseas defeats, there was a lot of hue and cry in the Indian cricket fraternity. Despite that, in the next tours of England and Australia, the Indians got only one extra warm-up game. They lost both the series with 3-1 and 0-2 margins respectively.
Once again, prior to this important tour of South Africa, the same lethargic approach is being repeated by BCCI.
However, this lack of co-operation from the board has recently forced the Indian team management to come out with a radical idea of using the just concluded India-Sri Lanka series as a warm-up for the tour of South Africa. The thank-thank tried to emulate the foreign conditions by asking for green tracks for the series.
“Yes [we requested for the pace-friendly wickets], because unfortunately, we get only two days before we fly to South Africa after this series gets over. So, we have no choice but be in a game situation and think of what’s coming ahead of us. Had we got a month off, we would have done a proper preparation in a camp sort of scenario,” the Indian captain had no hesitation to reveal his plan (and his frustration towards BCCI’s senseless attitude).
Not only the skipper, in Nagpur, when the author asked India’s ‘Test specialist’ Cheteshwar Pujara about this lack preparation time, especially the number of practice game ahead of South Africa Tests, he too sounded helpless.
“Indian team is also playing other formats [ODIs and T20s], so if there are matches scheduled before we either go to South Africa or England, you can’t help it, as an individual. You need to be prepared. Even if you are in India, we need to try and replicate wickets in South Africa and England and then try and practice here.”
“As far as practice games are concerned, I should not be the one commenting. It also depends on schedule and how BCCI plans its tour. But going there a little bit early — a week or 10 days early, and then practising on those pitches are important,” Pujara said.
Unfortunately, in the Sri Lanka series, apart from the Eden Gardens track, the wickets in Nagpur and Delhi didn’t have the kind of juice, which Kohli and Co. would have liked.
Thus, now their only warm-up period before the Cape Town Test will be in a preparatory camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru and the 5-6 days which they are getting before the start of the series.
Certainly, it is not the ideal homework before the toughest tour in the cricketing world.