Important to get team off to a good start in South Africa, says KL Rahul

India Test vice captain KL Rahul said that playing in South Africa poses a unique challenge but the Indian team are up for it. Speaking at a virtual press conference, the swashbuckling opener said, ” In any foreign series, getting the team off to a good start is the most important thing. Last time when I came here, I did not have much idea about what to expect from these conditions but this time around, having played 2 Tests here, we are slightly better prepared for the conditions.”

Asked about how the team will cope with the South African pitches, he said, “The pace and bounce in the pitches here is very different to other countries. That is why it was very important that we came here earlier and tried to adjust to the conditions.

“We’ve had match simulations and tried to get used to the conditions. The pitches here can be challenging because of the tennis-ball bounce. We’ve played in Australia where the pitches are fast and bouncy, but here it can be a bit spongy and then it starts to quicken up,” he added.

India’s poor record in South Africa – where the team has won only three Tests out of 20 and have never registered a series win – will also be the key motivating factor this time around feels Rahul. India lost the opening two Tests in 2018 but registered a memorable win in Johannesburg in the last Test end the tour 2-1.

“It’s a huge series. As a team, we’ve always taken overseas series as a challenge. A lot has been said and written about India not winning series overseas which we’ve worked really hard towards. We’ve won series in England and Australia, which gives us a lot of confidence. We haven’t won a series in South Africa so that gives us the extra motivation to go out there and try and learn from the mistakes from the past tours,” he said.

In regards to his batting, Rahul said his aim stays the same as England. “I’ve tried to play close to the body and leave a lot of balls outside the off stump, see off the new ball, which is the most important thing,” he said. “We’ve seen historically that the new ball plays a big part. If we can play off the new ball and not give any wickets in the 25-30 overs, my focus now is play really tight.”

When asked about who will play in the number 5 position, he said, the team are yet to have a chat about it. “It is a very difficult decision to make, obviously. Ajinkya has been a very important part of our Test team and he has played very crucial knocks in his career. In the last 15-18 months, if I can think back, his knock in Melbourne was really crucial and helped us win a Test match. That partnership with Pujara at Lord’s in the second innings, where he got a fifty, was really important. That ended up in us winning the Test match. So he has been a key player of us in that middle-order,” he said.

Rahul also praised Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari, adding, “Shreyas obviously, has taken his chances. He played a brilliant knock in Kanpur, got a hundred. So he is very excited and Hanuma has also done well for us. It’s a tough decision but we’ll start having the chat probably today or tomorrow. You’ll get to know in a couple of days’ time.”

India will play 3 Tests and 3 ODIs in South Africa, starting December 26.

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