The last time India lost a home Test series was when England had toured the country in 2012. The 2-1 victory registered by the tourists on that occasion had as one of its big factors, the performance of the captain Alistair Cook. His three centuries in the rubber allowed the English side to post big totals and triumph over the Indians.
South Africa, by contrast, had an awful experience in their last visit to Indian shores. They got hammered 3-0 by India in a 4-Test series and couldn't cope with the excessive turn on some of the wickets. Last year, the South Africans had a similar experience in Sri Lanka where they got beaten comprehensively in a 2-Test series by the hosts, again on spin-friendly pitches.
So, what does South Africa need to do in order to avoid suffering another humiliation? Or, to go one step further, what do they need to do in order to win in India?
Well, to begin with, they need to bat well in Indian conditions. That's a big improvement that is needed in the team. Without putting up big scores, the Proteas won't be able to succeed in the Test series. They know this fact well and have, therefore, hired a legend of Indian domestic cricket, Amol Muzumdar, as their batting coach. His inputs will definitely help the visiting Proteas.
But the visitors would do well to consult another source of knowledge. The magnificent performance by Cook in 2012 was grounded in a superb style of playing spin that the former English opener adopted in those four matches. It is this style that needs to be looked at, understood and followed by the Proteas. After all, the Indians had prepared highly spin-friendly tracks for England also on that occassion.
What made Cook so successful was the exceptionally good footwork he showed. He went fully forward to deliveries pitched up and was deep on the backfoot against shorter lengths.
Another important factor in his success on that tour was that Cook played a little bit more positively than he usually does. We got to see the former England captain coming down the wicket at regular intervals and hitting over the top. This strategy was important as it prevented the bowlers from getting into a nice rhythm. Lastly, there was also a generous use of the sweep shot from Cook.
So, good footwork, use of the feet and sweep was the formula that gave the English opening spinner 3 hundreds in four Test matches. If the likes of Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock can follow suit, they can also cause serious damage to the Indian team.
Lastly, the batsmen also need to put their ego aside. On dry dustbowls, there are bound to be some unplayable deliveries. Getting beaten by them has to be taken in their stride by the batsmen. By not getting ruffled by such instances and trusting their defence, the Proteas can achieve a lot more than what they did in 2015.