"This is India’s best chance to win a Test series in South Africa" is the general refrain and there will be very few Indian cricket followers who will disagree. As coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli said at the pre departure press briefing on Wednesday the tour represented a challenge but then the team was up to meeting it.

Indeed in this regard it is difficult not to agree with the views expressed by chairman of selectors MSK Prasad. In a recent interview he was optimistic about Indian cricket and said that the current team could well dominate for about five years. He spoke highly of the commitment, consistency and confidence levels of the side and paid particular tribute to the fitness levels of the team members. Despite playing a lot of cricket they have displayed agility on the field of play he pointed out.

There can be little doubt that as far as Indian cricket is concerned the mood is highly upbeat. Kohli and his men can do no wrong and such is the upbeat mood that as I said several cricket fans in this country are already talking of India winning the series in South Africa which commences on January 5.

Going by past record this would be seem to be unduly optimistic for India have just won two Tests in South Africa (against eight defeats) and are yet to a win a series after six visits. But present form and past record are two aspects that can determine a team’s chances. And while on past record the Indians would seem to have little chance on present form the visitors would seem to have every chance of creating history.

One look at the team and this optimism gains further ground. As Prasad pointed out the bench strength these days is pretty strong and that is why young talent is being given opportunities despite the established stars still continuing to perform admirably. For example the selectors must have thought seriously of including Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal in the touring squad for South Africa. But with conditions being what they are in that country an additional pace bowler was picked in Jasprit Bumrah and ultimately that would appear to be the better choice. The playing eleven is likely to consist of three pace bowlers and a lone spinner and there was no need to include a third spinner other than the established duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin.

Looking ahead to the three Test series the question remains whether the playing eleven should consist of six batsmen and four bowlers or five batsmen and five bowlers. Also how to fit in Hardik Pandya could pose another problem. Including an extra batsman could come in handy in case of an early order collapse. On the other hand can the Indians win a Test in South Africa with just four bowlers? A compromise can be reached by including Pandya as a utility man as one cannot classify him yet as a full-fledged all rounder in Test cricket

With all the positive factors that makes one feel India has a realistic chance of creating history this time around in South Africa there is a negative factor also to be considered. The home team is not that formidable as they have been in the past. There are chinks in the South African armour thanks to injuries or players being past their best and the visitors can take advantage of these factors. .

So what can we expect from the contest between the two top rated teams in the ICC rankings? As several cricket followers have emphatically pointed out this will be the real test for Kohli and his men as they go hopping from South Africa to England and Australia over the next year or so. Much has been made of the fact that the glorious run that the Indians have enjoyed over the last couple of years has come about because of their playing most of the games at home. But I feel that this team has the skill and the ability to perform admirably even away from their own backyard and this belief stems from the fact that the batting and the pace bowling is particularly strong. In Kohli, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane they have the batsmen to come good anywhere. All of them have the talent and the temperament to be among the runs.

More to the point it is the Indian pace bowling line up that gives rise to the mood of optimism that prevails. For once it would appear that India have the arsenal even to match the feats of Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. The quintet of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Bumrah have the pace, swing, skill and experience to match the more illustrious pacemen on the other side of the fence. Indian speedsters have always done well in South Africa and there is every chance of the present lot doing even better. .

Yes, the real test for the Indian cricketers starts as 2018 gets underway. Will they pass it or flunk it? The coming weeks will provide the answer.