Virat Kohli India
Virat Kohli will hope everything falls in place nicely for India in this first Test match against South AfricaIANS

India did not make a great start in either the T20I or the ODI series, and that led to them losing both to South Africa. There might have been other factors involved in those series losses, but the importance of winning the opening match of the series (or at the very least, not losing it) cannot be underplayed.

Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri would have asked for a wicket that plays to the strengths of this team, and if that does prove to be the case, there really is nothing stopping India from beating South Africa in this first Test match in Mohali.

"Three or four days out from the first day, it looks drier than a pitch normally looks," said an I-am-trying-not-to-look-too-concerned-but-I-am Faf Du Plessis. "That's all I can say.

"We are preparing for the worst. We are expecting big spin on day one."

India team director Ravi Shastri spent much of his press conference espousing the need to take full advantage of playing at home, and rightly too. If South Africa have a perceived weakness of playing spin, all four pitches in the Test matches should take turn, sooner rather than later, plain and simple.

"At home you should play to your strength and there is no need to hide behind that issue," Shastri said. "It has been happening over the years whenever teams have played in their own countries.

"It is something that you expect. Teams are doing that in all countries."

Indeed they are, and there is no reason India shouldn't do it either.

Making pitches suited to your strengths is one thing; actually taking advantage of it is another. South Africa are not a side that will fold up in a whimper; they are the No.1 Test team in the world by a distance, and India will need to play at top gear from ball one to manage a victory in this first Test at the PCA Stadium.

The bowling, with or without spin, needs to step up, like it did against Sri Lanka, while what will probably decide the outcome of this Test match will be India's batting.

It has blown hot and cold in the recent past, but a sound platform is absolutely essential for India to put pressure on South Africa; because the bigger the pressure, the more likely they are to suffer.

South Africa will also rely on their batting to a large extent. If the batsmen are able to counter the inevitable spin, India will feel like a deer in headlights, unable to fathom where to go. AB De Villiers, Du Plessis and Hashim Amla, the three captains of the three formats, will be key towards that target.

If India can get those three batsmen out early though, even the much-vaunted South Africa pace attack will struggle to make enough of an impact to force a result in their favour.

1st Test schedule: India vs South Africa.

Date: 5-9 November.

Time: 9.30 am IST (4 am GMT, 12 am ET, 6 am SAST).

Venue: PCA Stadium in Mohali.

Session timings: First session: 9.30-11.30 am. Lunch: 11.30 am to 12.10 pm. Second session: 12.10-2.10 pm. Tea: 2.10-2.30 pm. Third session: 2.30-4.30 pm (extendable by half an hour).

TV listings: India: Star Sports 1, Star Sports 3. South Africa: SuperSport. UK: Sky Sports 2. Middle East and North Africa: OSN Play. USA:Willow TV.

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