Your essential guide to the first Test between South Africa and India at Newlands.
The top two Test sides collide in what is expected to be a phenomenal Test match highlighted by comebacks, fiery pace bowling and sumptuous batting displays; the first of three for the Freedom Trophy. India were South Africa’s first opponents after readmission, so it is fitting that the Proteas start the new year on their hunt for Test supremacy, by measuring their ability against the best Test team in the world.
India have been heavily criticised for the number of Tests they play at home and since their tour of Sri Lanka in August 2015 have played eight Test series, with six of those being in India. They have, however, strung together an excellent streak and won every series since their drawn Test match against Bangladesh in June 2015. Including that series, they played 10 series and won nine, which included 31 matches, 21 wins, two defeats and eight draws.
South Africa in that same period have played 28 matches, won 12, lost nine and drew seven. SA played 10 series in this time, winning six, drawing one and losing three, which included a 3-0 loss to India in November 2015.
The visitors are 13 ranking points clear of South Africa, and if the hosts can dish out a 3-0 win, like they received when the sides last met, then SA will draw level on 118 ranking points.
Despite heavy water restrictions in Cape Town, the Newlands groundsmen promised bouncy, green wickets. This was confirmed by Proteas coach Ottis Gibson, who said: ‘It looks like a hard and firm wicket. There’s a bit of grass on it. It’s not a brown-looking pitch, there’s a lot of grass on it, exactly like we want it.’
These seamer-friendly wickets would not have been possible if it wasn’t for Newlands’ borehole-water supply, which has aided ground staff to keep the pitch nourished. It’s expected to be an overcast day on Friday with a high of 25 degrees, perfect weather for reverse-swing bowling which will aid the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Mohammed Shami.
Players to Watch
Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock are two young players with a point to prove. Markram faces his first worthy opponents after a perfect start to his Test career, which saw him pick up two centuries and a fifty in four innings. Although these came against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the 22-year-old showed signs of a promising career in baggy whites and there are no better opponents he could face to prove what he is capable of.
De Kock, however, hasn’t hit a century since 2 January last year against Sri Lanka. That’s 18 innings without a century, and he has scored only four half-centuries in that time.
There has been major hype around the bowling unit that India have brought to South Africa. Despite having arguably the two best spinners in the world, in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, it’s the seamers who have gained the most media hype. Some pundits have gone as far as saying that this is the best seam-attack India has brought to South Africa. With regards to pace, swing, bounce and variation, India have a seamer who can fill each category. But on Newlands’ green wicket, I have gone with Ishant Sharma as the most lethal for the first Test. Because of his height, the 29-year-old will test South Africa with the pace and bounce he can generate and will pose a similar threat to Morne Morkel.
India have never won a series in South Africa in six attempts. The closest they got was in the drawn three-match series in 2010. In fact, India have only recorded two Test match wins in South Africa since the first Test between the sides in 1992 – one in the drawn series in 2010 and one in their 2-1 defeat in 2006.
The sides have clashed four times at Newlands, with the Proteas winning twice and two draws.
Probable starting XIs
South Africa – 1. Dean Elgar, 2. Aiden Markram, 3. Hashim Amla, 4. Faf du Plessis, 5. AB de Villiers, 6. Temba Bavuma, 7. Quinton de Kock, 8. Vernon Philander, 9. Morne Morkel, 10. Kagiso Rabada, 11. Keshav Maharaj.
India – 1. Lokesh Rahul, 2. Murali Vijay, 3. Cheteshwar Pujara, 4. Virat Kohli (c), 5. Ajinkya Rahane, 6. Rohit Sharma, 7. Ravichandran Ashwin, 8. Wriddhiman Saha, 9. Mohammed Shami/Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10. Umesh Yadav, 11. Ishant Sharma.
They said it
Ravi Shastri: ‘The beauty of this team is that it doesn’t matter which team we face. We respect all opposition. We look at the pitch and adapt to those conditions. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is.’
Ottis Gibson: ‘We are at home so we do understand the conditions a little bit better than the Indians, but we are not taking anything for granted with their team.We know they have a very strong batting lineup, we know they have some good swing bowlers and two quality spinners as well. We are gearing up for a good battle all over, not just at Newlands but throughout the Test series.’
Virat Kohli: ‘With the bowling attack we have and the balance we have in the side we definitely believe we can win here this time. There are no two ways about it. If we never had that mindset then there was no reason for us to get on the flight.’
Faf du Plessis: ‘It’s good to have some importance to this series. We don’t have an Ashes, so India vs South Africa can start to become a very big series now. There are some really high-class players who are going to bash it out over the next four weeks, so it’s very exciting. ’
The match will start at 10:30 on Friday, 5 January at Newlands, Cape Town.
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