Why India should start looking ahead for the South Africa tour now
India's South African sojourn begins in January of 2018.
The first Test starting against Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens will mark the beginning of the end for India, as far as their season at home is concerned.
It has been a fruitful run on home soil for the Virat Kohli-led outfit, ever since South Africa arrived a couple of years ea and the team has gone from strength-to-strength since then.
The talk has already begun in certain quarters about this outfit's first big Test, which would come in South Africa at the start of next year.
During South Africa's tour to India in 2015, if there is one match which is remembered rather infamously, it is the third Test at Nagpur, which will host the second Test of this series, where the ball spun from day one and batsmen from both teams found life to be miserable in the middle.
One would hope that such conditions are not on offer this time around, but with all the talk about home advantage, the possibility can't be ruled out.
The final Test of the series will be played at the Ferozshah Kotla, a venue where India have not thought twice before picking three spinners in the past.
Keeping that in mind, it would not be the worst idea for the management to ask the curators to prepare wickets that the team might find on their African safari next month, which are likely to assist the faster men more than the spinners.
As it is, the venues picked for the Test 2 and 3 don't have a history of producing fast, bouncy decks.
However, if one jog their memory back a bit, then they will again recall Nagpur coming in the news for dodgy reasons, when in 2004, it unleashed a juicy pitch for the crucial third Test against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Test.
The tactic fell in the hands of the visitors as they completed a famous win and confirmed their first win on Indian soil in 35 years.
It might not be the worst idea for India, especially its batters, to test themselves on similar tracks before they face up to the likes of Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and others in South Africa.
It might help especially someone like a KL Rahul, who will be going there for the first time, if picked, to understand what shots he must eliminate on those pitches and the areas of his game that he must tighten.
If one looks at the squad picked for the series against Sri Lanka, as many as 9 players have played in South Africa in the past, with only Wriddhiman Saha, along with Rahul, not having any experience of African waters.
India could also find the combination that might work for them on those pitches, during the course of the series.
During the 2013-14 tour, they stuck to playing just one spinner, playing R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja as the sole slow bowler at Johannesburg and Durban, respectively.
Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav will all likelihood start in the first Test on Thursday.
With Hardik Pandya rested for the first two Tests, a spot opens up for either of Bhuvneshvar Kumar or Ishant Sharma.
The former had a terrific outing with the ball in the last Test he played here, picking up a five-wicket haul and leading India to a win.The latter's career seems to have hit a roadblock, but in the past two years, he certainly seems to have developed a lot more control with the ball.
The best way to judge who suits the bill would be to play both and opt for one of Ashwin or Jadeja, but that is a route the management has not opted, in a long time.
If there is one pitch, where the quicks would get help for sure, it is the Eden Gardens, which since Sourav Ganguly has taken over the reigns, has seen its turf turn upside down.
Renowned for a number of years to assist the spinners, the curators at the venue have not shied away from leaving some juice on the wicket in recent times and if that is the case again on Thursday, then the fast bowlers from both sides will surely be waiting for the morning to arrive as early as it possibly can.
The success tasted by the present group of players at home and also parts of the sub-continent should go down as a memorable phase in Indian cricket.
A few may not agree with the above line, but one look at the way players, especially the fast bowlers have developed, will give you a fair idea for the growth made by them.
For the moment, the Number 1 ranked Test side look set to end their home run on a high, but they will know at the corner of their heads that bigger battles are ahead.
The preparations for them must start now.