Cape Town - Although it is still just over a year up the line, South Africa shape up as the likeliest foes to check the powerful Indian freight train in Test cricket.
Virat Kohli’s vibrant charges ensured they would end the 2016 calendar year at the top of the ICC rankings in the format earlier this week when they clinched the fifth and final Test of their home series against England to complete a 4-0 drubbing.
The visitors tumbled three notches to fifth as a result, allowing the Proteas to shift upward a notch to fourth, behind Pakistan in third and Australia in second place.
India, with a 15 ratings-points cushion, seem destined to retain their premier status for some time, judging by their upcoming series roster.
They are already basking in the knowledge that they are the best Indian team of all time in unbeaten-run terms, with a current sequence of 18 matches (including 14 victories).
But it is also just possible that they will threaten the all-time record for Tests without defeat, set in a great era for West Indies between 1982 and 1984 as 27 contests were negotiated in that fashion; Clive Lloyd was the staple captain of the time.
Kohli’s troops would advance to a new world record of 28 games without setback if they can stave off any losses over the course of these looming, scheduled assignments: four Tests against Australia (home, February), three against Sri Lanka (away, July) and three against Pakistan (home, November).
It will be challenging to achieve that, but not impossible: remember that the Aussies have a pretty awful modern record on the Subcontinent in general, which includes clean-sweep losses in three successive series (0-3 in Sri Lanka earlier this year, 0-2 in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan in 2014/15, and 0-4 on their last Indian tour in 2012/13).
The Indians would fancy their chances at present of beating Sri Lanka away, and similarly seeing off arch-rival Pakistan at home, although that series is not yet cast in stone for various reasons.
Should the Pakistani series not happen, there would be a strong chance - unless they have stumbled in the interim, of course - that India would be attempting to set a new world landmark instead on South African soil.
They are due to play a four-Test series here from January 2018, part of a bumper local season in the five-day landscape for Proteas fans which also includes a home quartet later on against the Baggy Greens.
Whether India are still in the running for that record for an unbeaten match sequence by then or not, the series is still shaping as a marketers’ dream, given the likelihood that India will still be on a roll at that point in series-win terms and as top dogs planet-wide.
It seems the most perilous series for Kohli’s men of any they will play in the next year or so, especially given their poor historical record in South Africa: they have not won a series in six thus far, including five reverses.
*The most consecutive Tests that the Proteas have ever played without defeat is 15, achieved in a productive spell when Graeme Smith was still in charge between 2012 and 2013.
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