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India vs South Africa, 1st Test, Preview: Focus on Rohit and Markram as visitors aim to upstage Kohli and Co’s home dominance

India have confirmed their playing XI.

Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

This is it. All the time for strategies, discussions, game-plans, pre-match talk, practice matches are over. It is showtime now. Yep! It is that time of the year where Team India kickstarts another phase of unprecedented home dominance. It is that time of the year where all home grounds get converted into a fortress; a fortress so obscure and robust that they can run play blindfolded and still stroll past the beleaguered visitors.

It is time for the home Test season. Back in 2015, South Africa came into the 4-match Test series against India riding high on successive white-ball series wins. They had not lost a Test series in Asia since 2006; they had managed to hold India for a draw twice [1-1 in 2008 & 1-1 in 2010] and were the only side to inflict an innings defeat twice on the hosts besides beating them 2-1 in 2000.

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They had the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn at the height of their powers and were up against a side that was still finding its feet under a new captain; a side that had only won one Test series [2-1 vs Sri Lanka, 2015] in the past 20 months. 

And, then everything changed….

On turn-tops masquerading as Test match pitches, the duo of Ashwin and Jadeja went on to cast a spell on the South Africans; a cast that still continues to send the batsmen of the current squad that was around the set-up back in a tizzy. Out of the 70 wickets that South Africa lost, 54 of them were taken by Indian spin duo. South Africa was humbled for 79 in Nagpur which is still the lowest Test score by a side against India and was subsequently shellacked 3-0 in the 4-match series [the 2nd Test in Bengaluru was abandoned due to wet outfield]. 

Since 2015, the Proteas have lost five of the eight Test matches they have played in Asia while three ended in a rain-affected draw. Four years on, Amla, de Villiers, and Steyn are gone, and they are up against a side that has dropped just four Tests at home this decade; a side that has shellacked every opposition that has come there way since that 2015 series against the Proteas [3-0 vs NZ, 2016, 4-0 vs ENG, 2016, 2-1 vs AUS, 2017, 1-0 vs BAN, 2017, 1-0 vs SL, 2017, 1-0 vs AFGH, 2018, 2-0 vs WI, 2018].

Coincidently South Africa is one of the three sides that have managed to win a Test match in India this decade [Nagpur, 2010]. That win was spearheaded by the genius of Dale Steyn [7-51 in the 1st innings] and Hashim Amla. In 2019, if South Africa wants to be victorious again, their class of 2014 [Aiden Markram, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi] will have to step-up.

Markram has impressed thus far in his outing in India, having scored back-to-back hundreds against India A and Board Presidents XI, but whether he can replicate it against the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja? Will Rabada finally get himself going in Asian conditions and replicate what his predecessor Dale Steyn did in Ahmedabad 2008 and Nagpur 2010?

They will have to. Because, as history tells us, it has taken pretty special from a visiting team to beat India in India. Something that Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla did in 2010 or Cook-KP-Anderson in Kolkata/Mumbai 2012 or Steven Smith in Pune 2017. Will the class of 2014 rise up to the challenge? We’ll wait and see!

Team Combination

India

Taking the leap out of England and Australia’s book, Team India announced their playing XI on the eve of the Test match. Leading into the Test match, there were two talking points as far as the possible combination of the playing XI. Firstly, Hanuma Vihari’s outstanding form in the West Indies meant that India could not possibly leave him out of the team. So, the question was will India go-in with 5 batsmen + Keeper + 3 spinners + 2 pacers or will they go with six batsmen + keeper + 2 spinners + 2 bowlers? 

Secondly, Yep! You guessed it right. Rishabh Pant. What about him? Will he continue to be the first-choice wicket-keeper or will we see Wriddhiman Saha back, considering the latter supreme wicket-keeping skills on turning tracks? Captain Virat Kohli answered both questions in the pre-match presser.

Wriddhiman Saha has been named as the first-choice wicket-keeper while Ravi Ashwin makes his way back in the side after sitting out of the West Indies Test series. Hanuma Vihari’s outstanding form in the Caribbean meant India will go with six batsmen + keeper + 2 spinners + 2 pacers. The pacers being the usual prospects in Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.

Probable XI

Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.

Bench: Umesh Yadav, Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav

South Africa

With Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers no longer there, the onus of South African batting will be on the likes of Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, and Temba Bavuma. While Bavuma impressed with his unbeaten half-century in the warm-up game, Markram has scored back-to-back hundreds against India A and BPXI. 

However, the task in the actual series won’t be that straightforward. In the current squad, barring Theunis de Bruyn (48.50 in 2 Tests) none of the Proteas batsmen average more than 30 against spin in Asia. Faf du Plessis averages a measly 21.19 in 19 innings against spin in Asia, testifying that they’ll have to do better than that to stand any chance in the series.

South Africa’s bowling in undeniably their stronger suit. The likes of Philander and Maharaj claimed five wickets between them in the practice game and they hope they can replicate that in the actual game.

Probable XI

Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (C), Temba Bavuma, Zubayr Hamza, Quinton de Kock (WK), Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi/Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt.

Bench: Lungi Ngidi/Vernon Philander, Heinrich Klaasen, Senuran Muthusamy, Anrich Nortje

Focus will be on

Rohit Sharma (India)

‘We want to give Rohit time and space at the top of the order’ said Virat Kohli in the pre-match presser. Needless to say, all eyes will be on Rohit, as the modern-day white-ball great start his baptism with fire as a Test match opener. Can he replicate his ODI exploits and resurrect his Test career? Only time will tell!

Aiden Markram (South Africa)

161, 100. That’s Aiden Markam’s tally in the two games that he has played in India against India A and BPXI. In a post-Amla and AB world, Markram is South Africa’s best bet at the top of the order. Can the 24-year-old spearhead the batting unit as the Test team ushers into a new era?

Stat Attack

10: No of Test series India have won on the bounce since their 1-2 defeat to England back in 2012/13. Can they become the first side to win 11 in a row?

4: No of Tests India have lost at home since January 01, 2010. The only side to beat India in India this decade have been South Africa [1], England [2], Australia.

0- No of Test matches South Africa have won in Asia since 2015.

2- wickets Ravindra Jadeja needs to become the fastest left-arm spinner to get to 200 Test scalps. In 43 Test, Jadeja has 198 wickets. The current record-holder is Rangana Herath, who achieved the feat in 47 Test.

Broadcast Details

TV – Star Sports 1 and Star Sports 1 HD

Online– Hotstar

Match Timings – 9:30 local time & IST (4:00 AM GMT)

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