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Board Presidents XI vs South Africa, 3-Day Practice Match, Preview: Focus on Rohit Sharma and Umesh Yadav ahead of the Test series

The visitors will need their youngsters to get acclimatized to the Indian conditions.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

After the razmataz and glitz of Twenty20 cricket, the focus of the South Africa tour of India shifts to the traditional format of the game: Test cricket. Both teams will square off against each other in a 3-match Test series that starts on October 02 at Dr PVG Raju ACA Sports Complex in Vizianagaram. And, so in a bid to get acclimatized to the conditions and also work out on a potential starting XI, the Faf du Plessis-led unit will take on the Board Presidents XI in a three-day practice match, a team led by Rohit Sharma.

The last time South Africa were in India, their experienced batting unit was grounded to dust by the Indian spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin on spiting cobras masquerading as Test match pitches. While the pitches aren’t expected to behave like the way they did back then, still a considerable threat looms on an inexperienced Proteas batting to nullify India’s threat. Du Plessis is back into the mix after missing out on the T20Is and he’ll hope that his bat can lead the inexperienced batting unit.

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The focus will be on Aiden Markram too. The right-handed batsman tipped as the next big thing in South African cricket, has been in great form leading into the practice match, scoring a nonchalant 161 against the likes of Umesh Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem, Jalaj Saxena, and Kuldeep Yadav. This will be another opportunity for Markram to stamp his authority and come into the Test series with truckloads of runs behind him.

The Boards President, on the other hand, boasts of a strong unit. Led by Rohit Sharma, the top-order will be spearheaded by Mayank Agarwal, who will be looking to get some runs under his belt after a lean Test series in the West Indies. Mumbai batsman Siddhesh Lad, Karun Nair, who had a great Duleep Trophy, will lead the middle-order while Srikar Bharat will don the wicket-keeping gloves.

But, in the end, all eyes will be on one man: Rohit Sharma, as he kickstarts his journey of salvaging his Test career. Will he start the journey on a positive note? We’ll get the indications soon.

Team Combinations

Board Presidents XI

Seldom do we talk about team combination for a practice game leading into a Test series at home but such is the situation- lack of a potent opener- that the national Test team finds itself in, that all these practice games become even more important. And, when you are trying to make an opener out of a middle-order batsman, it gets even more crucial.

With a factory of India A- Abhimanyu Eashwaran, Priyank Panchal, Shubhman Gill [to name a few]- openers breathing down his neck and him being in the second half of his career, this could potentially be a make-or-break season for Rohit as a Test batsman. And, it will be interesting to see his approach when he walks out to open the batting in this game alongside Mayank Agarwal.

The middle-order will comprise of Priyank Panchal [109 vs SA-A], Siddhesh Lad and Karun Nair who is coming off a great Duleep trophy where he top-scored with 375 runs in three innings. Apart from Rohit, it will be interesting to see how Umesh Yadav fares. The Vidarbha fast bowler earned a recall thanks to Jasprit Bumrah‘s injury, giving him another opportunity to slot himself back into the mix.

Yadav is the leading wicket-taker [among fast bowlers] for India in home Tests [50] since 2016 but he came in for some stick against South Africa A. In 18 overs, Yadav conceded 73 runs without getting any wicket and will hope he gets back into some sort of a rhythm to harbour any chance of breaking into the playing XI.

Probable XI: Rohit Sharma [c], Mayank Agarwal, Priyank Panchal, Siddhesh Lad, Karun Nair, Srikar Bharat [wk], Jalaj Saxena, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Ishan Porel, Umesh Yadav, Shardul Thakur

South Africa

For the Proteas, it will be about their batsman acclimatizing to the Indian conditions and prepare for stern tests that will ensue in the eventual series. Aiden Markram, who is coming off a 161 will lead will batting unit while fellow opener Dean Elgar will be looking to spend a few hours in the middle. In a post-Amla and AB world, skipper Faf du Plessis is the most experienced batsman in the side and he’ll have to spearhead the inexperienced middle-order (Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza or Temba Bavuma) in Indian conditions.

It will also be interesting to see the bowling combination that Faf opts for. Considering Rohit will be opening, will he go with their traditional strength and play a pace-heavy attack or will they adjust their playing XI according to the conditions and play two spinners in Dane Piedt and Keshav Maharaj?

Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis [c], Zubayr Hamza, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock [wk], Dane Piedt, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander/Lungi Ngidi.

Focus will be on

Rohit Sharma (Board Presidents XI)

What Rishabh Pant is to white-ball cricket, currently Rohit Sharma is to Test cricket. They both divide opinions on social media and have an equal measure of supporters and detractors, who are calling for their head. With the likes of Abhimanyu Easwaran, Priyank Panchal and Shubman Gill breathing down his neck by scoring truckloads of runs for India A and their state teams, this is perhaps the last punt that the team management is taking on the modern-day ODI great to finally salvage his Test career. All eyes will be on Sharma tomorrow as he embarks on a obscure path full of unexpected twists and turns.

Keshav Maharaj (South Africa)

While there will be eyes on how the South African batsman adjust themselves to Indian conditions and play against the likes of Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Jalaj Saxena, few will also be interested in Keshav Maharaj. It’s a rarity, right? When you talk of South African sides, you talk about their perennial strength: fast bowling.

In the past whenever South Africa won in India it was because of their fast bowlers like Dale Steyn, Alan Donald or Shaun Pollock but for the first time probably they have come to India with a genuine world-class spinner in Keshav Maharaj. Maharaj is at the peak of his form and is coming off a hugely productive County Championship where he took 38 wickets in just five matches.

The off-spinner could play a huge role in this series and it will be interesting to see how he adjust himself to the SG ball and the Indian conditions.

Stat Attack

3– times Rohit Sharma has opened in first-class cricket. Interestingly, it all came on the final day when the chances of an outright result were minimal.

Rohit Sharma as an opener in FC cricket:

30* [40] vs Saurashtra, Ranji Trophy S/F, 2008-09

68 [73] vs Rajasthan, Ranji Trophy Q/F, 2010-11

28 [11] vs Punjab, Ranji Trophy, 2012-13

50– No of wickets Umesh Yadav has taken at home since the start of 2016. No Indian fast bowler has taken more.

38– wickets for Keshav Maharaj in just five County Championship games. He will be the one to look out for tomorrow.

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