India face upbeat Proteas in first Test
Mohali: Having won the Twenty20 and One Day International (ODI) series in comprehensive fashion, South Africa will aim to extend their dominance to the longest version of the game when they take on India in the first Test which starts at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium here on Thursday.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for the Indians, as it has been two years since they last played a Test series in their own country. In all likelihood, it will be a difficult task for them if the performances in the limited overs are anything to go by.
This will be Virat Kohli’s first full home series as Test captain and the Delhi lad — who turns 27 on Thursday — is sure to face a trial by fire.
The four-match series will be an improtant one for India as they will have an opportunity to climb to second position of the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Test rankings.
However, climbing to the summit will not be easy for the fifth ranked Indians. Trailing top ranked South Africa by a fraction of a point, the hosts will have to win all four Tests. On the other hand, South Africa will vault to 130 points and India will plummet to 96 points if the visitors win all four Tests.
Unlike the other touring teams to India, the South Africans have not only acclimatised very well but they have not lost their intensity, which can be gauged by the way they played in the T20Is and the ODIs, as well as in the two-day warm-up match against Indian Board President’s XI at Mumbai.
The Indians will be without Ishant Sharma, who is serving a one-match ban for his aggressive approach and repeated confrontations with rival players during the recent tour of Sri Lanka.
The hosts are expected to rely heavily on their spinners with in-form off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin leading the charge. He can expect strong support from the other end from Amit Mishra, who was in good form in the ODIs.
With the Mohali pitch expected to be a spin-friendly one, the Indians may opt for an additional tweaker and Ravindra Jadeja could be a perfect fit for the role. He has been in terrific form, in the ongoing Ranji Trophy and has claimed 38 wickets in three matches for Saurashtra.
Fast bowlers Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron are expected to be the pace combination if Kohli decides to to stick to his stance of playing five bowlers.
On the batting front, India will be spoilt for choices on with Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma in contention for the top order slots.
Given his form in the ODIs Rohit may expect to be called up for the first Test ahead of the in-form Pujara. Ajinkya Rahane, Kohli and Wriddhiman Saha will form the rest of the middle-order.
The Proteas will surely be counted as the favourites for this game after their stellar performances so far on this tour. Their pace attack has the speed and guile to pose difficult questions even on slow lifeless tracks.
Veteran pacers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel have bowled beautifully in Indian conditions and could always be counted upon to deliver the goods in crucial times.
Young fast bowlers Kasigo Rabada has also done well on his first overseas tour and has quickly adjusted to the conditions. Vernon Philander, on the other hand, has not been handed too many chances so far and would be raring to prove himself.
Leg-spinner Imran Tahir will spearhead the visitors’ spin attack with Dane Piedt expected to be the other spinner.
J.P. Duminy, who bowled well in the ODI’s, could also play the role of an extra bowler if declared fit. Duminy is recuperating from an injury to his hand.
His absence means Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl could have to bowl more than usual.
The South African batting looks formidable with AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis in excellent form. Elgar and van Zyl will add more firepower to their batting while Temba Bavuma is expected to come in if Duminy is unable to play.
The only concern for the visitors is the form of their captain Hashim Amla. The stylish right-hander is struggling for runs and is yet to score a half-century on this tour.