Virat and Hashim
Cricket India South Africa's tour of India Test Matches

Freedom Trophy, First test, Mohali: Time to put your best foot forward

This is what the purists have been waiting for. Tomorrow marks the start of the last leg of South Africa’s longest tour of India – the test series is here!

Some stand-out moments for me from previous India v South Africa test matches:

  1. Javagal Srinath’s devastating spell in Ahmedabad
  2. Sachin’s off stump sent cart-wheeling in Durban by Allan Donald
  3. The Sachin and Azhar fireworks show in Cape Town
  4. Rahul Dravid’s maiden test hundred in Johannesburg
  5. Sehwag’s hundred on test debut (accompanied by Sachin’s upper cut)
  6. Sreesanth’s great spells and attendant war dance
  7. An injured Jacques Kallis’s sparkling innings to save South Africa’s blushes at Newlands
  8. Dale Steyn’s devastating spell in Nagpur

The Team

India, having won the recent series against Sri Lanka, will be quietly confident under Virat Kohli. The new look team is playing their first test at home in around two years and will be eager to show Indian cricket has moved on from the retirements of stalwarts like Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Sehwag.

India will play to their strengths – spin. Ashwin should make his return from injury and the way he bowls will determine to a large extent the way the series goes. He was absolutely spectacular in Sri Lanka and one of the main reasons (if not the main reason) India won that series. He will be well supported by Amit Mishra, a canny bowler who isn’t afraid to fight the ball and is a handful in sub-continental conditions. That takes care of two bowlers but Kohli has indicated India will continue to play five bowlers. And who are the other three?

Only Umesh Yadav can be considered a certainty so two spots remain. Ishant is banned. Bhuvi suffered a pounding in the Mumbai ODI and Aaron is extremely wayward. Stuart Binny fails to inspire any confidence. If India feel the pitch will turn, the only other spinner in the squad, Sir Jadeja, will play. The Mohali pitch has been kind to seamers in the past and has a bit of bounce, so perhaps Bhuvi or Binny (but not both) will feel they have a chance. So its either Jadeja, Bhuvi or Binny that will take one spot. The selection of a second seamer at the expense of the third spinner seems unlikely given that India have been happy to play three spinners in Indian conditions.

That still leaves one spot open….which I think should be taken by a batsman, leaving India with a 6-1-4 combination. This should serve them well against a South African pace attack which looks seriously threatening.

While Murali Vijay, Virat and Rahane are fixtures in the batting line-up, Shikhar Dhawan scored a magnificent century on debut at Mohali against the Australians and should make the cut. If India do take the six batsman route, Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored a fantastic hundred in his last test, should bat at 3 leaving Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul to battle it out for the remaining spot in the line-up. Mr. Talent, in whom the team management has shown immense faith, will win that battle. So the final XI I am predicting is:

  1. Murali Vijay
  2. Shikar Dhawan
  3. Che Pujara
  4. Virat Kohli
  5. Ajinkya Rahane
  6. Rohit Sharma
  7. Wridhiman Saha
  8. Ravindra Jadeja / Bhuvi (depending on the pitch)
  9. Ravi Ashwin
  10. Amit Mishra
  11. Umesh Yadav

The opposition

South Africa are riding high after winning the T20 and ODI series in thumping fashion. They also have an excellent touring record, having been unbeaten in tests abroad for last nine years. The side look settled and most likely they will continue to bombard India with pace. They will be pretty happy to start the test series in conditions which are probably the closest to those that they get back home.

India need to be wary of their skipper Hashim Amla who can bat long and is terrific against spin. De Villiers and Du Plessis are class batsman and India will be hoping Ashwin gets into their heads early on in the series. The rest of the batting, in the absence of Duminy, is relatively untested in Indian conditions and the Indian bowlers will fancy their chances against them. Also, South Africa should play Imran Tahir after his impressive performance in the limited overs series. The pace attack of Morkel, Steyn and Philander will always test the Indians with their combination of pace, swing and bounce.

Tomorrow, each team will want to put its best foot forward. Four test matches is a long journey.

Will India be able to put the pounding in Mumbai behind them? Will the South Africans survive a trial by spin? Will a change in captain change India’s fortunes or will the South Africans sign the tour off triumphantly?

All these questions will be answered by the end of the fourth test on the 7th of December. A feast of test cricket awaits.

— DJ

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