After the exciting T20I series which saw hosts India and South Africa sharing the spoils, the focus now shifts towards the longest format of the game.
Virat Kohli and Co. prepare to face off against the Rainbow Nation in the first Test, scheduled to begin on Wednesday, October 2 at the Dr. Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy Stadium in Visakhapatnam.
The Proteas must be ecstatic after their dominating victory in Bangalore, but facing India in Tests is an entirely different proposition altogether.
India are currently riding high on a wave of positives after whitewashing West Indies away from home. Needless to say, the team returned with a bunch of positives.
Middle-order batsman Hanuma Vihari is one example, after a bunch of handsome scores in the Caribbean threw light on his enormous potential.
Vice captain Ajinkya Rahane ended his run drought too, and would be hoping to replicate the performance in the upcoming clash.
But a significant development saw India losing out on its pace battery lynchpin Jasprit Bumrah owing to a stress fracture in the lower back. Umesh Yadav is the replacement.
KL Rahul’s recent struggles with the bat saw Rohit Sharma being picked as an opener, and the “Hitman’ would be desperate to grab the opportunity with both hands.
The Mumbaikar is seemingly set to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order while the in-form Shubman Gill also might get a debut.
When it comes to the bowling department, there are no real confusions with regards to the pacers. But it will be interesting to see as to who would get the nod among the spinners.
Thanks to his impeccable control, India picked Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Kuldeep Yadav and Ravichandran Ashwin in the Tests against West Indies.
But Ashwin is a different animal in home fixtures and is a definite force to reckon with.
South Africa return to Test action after not playing in this format of the game since a two-match series against Sri Lanka which they surprisingly lost 2-0 in incredibly dramatic circumstances.
The Proteas were taught a hard ‘spinning’ lesson by the Indian spinners when they last toured, as the hapless batsmen found it incredibly difficult to negotiate the duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on rank turners.
The batsmen will need to bat at the top of their potential if they are to stand any chance against a dynamic Indian bowling outfit, albeit without Bumrah.
Moreover, South Africa no longer have the luxury of having veterans Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in the team, and hence the onus will be on Faf du Plessis and the likes to step up under pressure.
Aiden Markram will partner Dean Elgar at the top of the order and they would need to lay the foundation upfront for the subsequent batsmen to capitalize on, if the Proteas are to stand a good chance of doing well.
The bowling attack is without the retired Dale Steyn, and hence Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander are really crucial for South Africa.
Lungi Ngidi will be a major threat too and spinner Keshav Maharaj is coming off a hugely successful spell with Yorkshire in England, and would relish these conditions.
Off-spinner Dane Piedt might just get the nod ahead of left-arm tweaker Senuran Muthusamy to introduce variety and they will be under pressure to deliver in friendly conditions.
PROBABLE PLAYING XI:
INDIA: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agrawal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
SOUTH AFRICA: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (C), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (WK), Theunis de Bruyn, Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt, Lungi Ngidi, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada.
Cheteshwar Pujara vs Kagiso Rabada
The mainstay of India’s batting line up, Cheteshwar Pujara, is pivotal in the nation’s fortunes, and if anyone could trouble him, it is going to be Kagiso Rabada.
Pujara was not in the best of form against West Indies, and will be looking to regain some touch against the Proteas. But he will not have it easy against the formidable South African pace attack led by Rabada.
It will be a formidable clash of biblical proportions between the ICC 4th-ranked Test batsman, Pujara and the ICC 2nd-ranked Test bowler, Rabada.
Vishakhapatnam has always been a batting paradise and Pujara will look to capitalise on the favourable conditions and steer his team to a good position, as is expected of him.
On the other hand, the young bowler will look to nip the Saurashtra batsman in the bud and provide a key breakthrough for Faf du Plessis.
Pujara has 5486 runs from 70 Tests at a brilliant average of 49.87 while Rabada has picked 176 wickets from 37 Tests at a bowling strike rate of 38.81.
Ishant Sharma vs Aiden Markram
With Jasprit Bumrah being ruled out of the series due to a stress fracture, all the expectations will be piled up on Ishant Sharma to rise as the premier bowler for the home side.
Ishant has been a silent warrior in the team’s winning causes all these years, and the lanky pacer will be very crucial in keeping the pressure on the touring African side.
A key battle would see Ishant Sharma being pitted against promising South African batsman, Aiden Markram.
The opener will be looking to get to a solid start with the bat and reap the benefits off a potentially flat wicket, while Ishant will want to create early inroads into the Proteas’ comparatively inexperienced batting lineup.
Markram is fresh off a hundred from the match against the Board President’s XI and if he replicates that in Vishakhapatnam, Virat Kohli would have an uncomfortable head ache to contend with.
Ishant has picked up 278 wickets from 92 Tests at an average of 33.42 while Markram has scored 1358 runs from 17 Tests, and has an average of 43.81.
India are clear favourites in the upcoming Test series with home conditions and form, both on their sides.
South Africa have not donned the whites much in 2019 and a 3-0 win over Pakistan at the start of the year were dwarfed by two concerning series losses against Sri Lanka.
India come off a dominant series win over West Indies, and they can take the momentum from that morale-boosting victory.
Team CricWizz predicts that India would beat South Africa in the first Test match and take a 1-0 lead in the series.