South African great Barry Richards has said that the upcoming series between India and South Africa will be a closely fought one featuring modern day cricket stars AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Dale Steyn.
The much anticipated Gandhi-Mandela series will commence on October 1st with T20 series kicking off the proceedings. The marathon tour includes 3 T20s, 5 ODIs and 4 Tests.
In an interview to The Times of India, Richards, who has represented South Africa in 4 Test matches in the 1970s, said apart from Kohli, the Indian batting line-up will revolve around Cheteshwar Pujara.
“I reckon it will be a closely-fought series where a Steyn five-for or an AB special or a Kohli century would turn the tide. South Africa would obviously not give an inch, but they will have a tough task at hand since India at home are a formidable unit,” Richards told TOI.
Praising the Indian batting line-up, Richards said Pujara could hold the key for the hosts against the world’s top-ranked Test team.
“Indian batting line-up looks good and has some fine players. But Cheteshwar Pujara, according to me, looks calm and composed at the crease and could hold the key for India,” he said.
“I see his willingness to excel each time he arrives at the crease. Pujara appears to be someone who is ready to give nothing but the best which is what any captain expects from his player,” he added.
South Africa have lost just two Test series in the last nine years, both at home to Australia and the last time South Africa lost away was in Sri Lanka in 2006.
Focussing on the spin department, the proteas have picked three specialist spinners for their Test series in India, recalling Tahir and offspinner Dane Piedt to join Simon Harmer, another off break bowler in the Test squad led by Hashim Amla.
Richards said the tourists have picked a good all-around squad.
“I see a lot of quality in this South African team. They have some fine batsmen such as AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla in their ranks and it’s a good all-round bowling unit too,” he said.
Richards also praised Kohli’s aggressive nature and leadership qualities, adding that the series can witness a healthy contest between the Indian skipper and South African pacer Steyn.
“Kohli comes across as someone who will give it his all for the team. He is a naturally aggressive player who has talent and has been successful over a long period of time. In what ways Kohli’s aggression will affect the Indian team is something we will have to wait and see,” he said.
“Kohli has been in good nick of late, and Dale Steyn knows the conditions well in India. However, it will be up to the pitches that are provided during the series. If Steyn gets the type of pitches where there is a bit of bounce, then it could be a good contest,” he added.
Richards also praised India’s leading fast bowler Ishant Sharma and said if the lanky pacer can maintain his fitness, he can be a success.
“Ishant Sharma did very well during that (Sri Lanka) series. Having played eight years of international cricket, Ishant knows what works for him and that’s a good sign. If he maintains his fitness, he will definitely be successful,” he said.
Talking about South African batsman De Villiers’ quality, Richards opined that his ability to improvise makes him destructive and dependable.
“Every team prepares for a player of AB’s quality. AB has more than one shot for any ball bowled to him. Plus, he has the ability to hit you anywhere in the ground, and that can be unnerving for any bowler. That’s not all. He can shift gears as per the situation in a game and these things make him one of the most destructive and dependable batsmen in world cricket today,” he said.
“If South Africa are a few wickets down for not many on the board, the plan will be to attack. The type of fieldset will solely depend on the state the match is in when he (De Villiers) comes into bat,” he added.