India have won each of their last nine Test series, including the one-off Test against Bangladesh in February 2017. Of the nine series wins, two came in Sri Lanka, one in the Caribbean, and six at home. India will begin the new year with a three-match Test series in South Africa and will then travel to England before touring Australia.
India's coach Ravi Shastri was wary of the challenges posed by upcoming series away from home, and said that the next one-and-a-half years will "define" his side.
"The conditions will be testing [overseas] but this one-and-a-half years will define this Indian cricket team," Shastri told reporters during the side's pre-departure press conference in Mumbai. "The whole team is aware of that and with tours of South Africa, Australia and England coming up in a year and a half, all I can say is this will be a better cricket team after 18 months."
When asked if the South Africa tour will be the biggest test for India's batsmen, captain Virat Kohli said that a positive mindset will help his team get a hang of the conditions. Kohli, who had been part of the touring party in 2013, when India gave South Africa a scare in the Johannesburg Test, called for greater consistency this time.
"It all depends on the kind of mindset you get into as a batsman," Kohli said. "Any place, even Indian conditions, is difficult if you're not in a good frame of mind. If you're not there mentally, it does not matter the kind of conditions you are playing in. If you are ready to take up the challenge mentally, every conditions seem like home conditions. You get accustomed to where you are going and you get accustomed to the conditions, you feel comfortable.
"You want to go back and try to do what we couldn't do the last time around. That's the kind of challenge you need to take up, especially when you go to places like South Africa, England, and Australia, because you go there once and you are not going back in a long time. So, as Ravi bhai mentioned, it's an opportunity to go back again and try to do the same things in a more consistent way and a better way so that we get the results we are looking for."
Thirteen members of the current squad, including Kohli, were part of the squad that toured South Africa in 2013. Having a strong core and the experience of playing in swinging conditions in Sri Lanka in 2015, Shastri said, will stand the side in good stead.
"We toured Australia and we did a pretty good job. We did well in England," Shastri said. "Sri Lanka in 2015 had some great tracks especially in the last two Tests where the ball seamed and swung. The preparation has been good and the boys have been [focusing] on the tour for a long time now. The nucleus has been the same. So that should help them."
In contrast, fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah is into his first stint with the Test side and has not played a first-class game since the Ranji Trophy semi-final in January 2017, but Shastri backed his selection and said it was a "good time" to add him to the Test roster.
"He is very exciting. In 50-overs and T20 he has shown how good he is," Shastri said. "He is one of the best in the world and it is acknowledged by his opponents. He has also shown he is a quick learner. When he has played for Gujarat, he has done well. He has taken five-wicket hauls, six-wicket hauls and run through oppositions. His confidence level is high and is a good time to get him in.