India’s red-ball captain Virat Kohli is clearly far from satisfied at having lost the ODI captaincy as well as the T20 captaincy that he withdrew from after the recent World Cup. But, under his leadership, the Indian test team are going from strength to strength. They now have the chance to cross one of the last frontiers by winning a series in South Africa. But the Proteas, if still a sleeping giant, look to be stirring from their slumber. As ever, we here at LWOC are offering our preview and prediction of South Africa vs India. But who will come out on top?
South Africa vs India First Test Preview and Prediction
South Africa have not played test cricket for some time. But they did impress when they were last in action, beating the West Indies 2-0 away from home in June. In fact, they were able to restrict the Windies to less than 170 in all four innings and although it was the seamers in Kagiso Rabada, Wiaan Mulder, Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi who did the majority of the damage, Keshav Maharaj also picked up a five-fer (including a hat-trick) with his off-spin in the second test.
India have played more red-ball cricket recently. They toured England late in the English summer, losing to New Zealand in the World Test Championship but bouncing back by playing some superb cricket to defeat the hosts at Lords and the Oval either side of a defeat in Headingley after the first test at Trent Bridge ended in a rain affected draw. A covid-outbreak in the Indian camp brough the tour to an early conclusion before the final test at Old Trafford.
India then returning to action against New Zealand on home turf. The Black Caps, playing in unfamiliar conditions, earned a valiant draw at in Kanpur, batting to a draw with the efforts of Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel enough to preserve the tenth wicket. But in Mumbai, after Patel took 10 wickets in the first innings, India skittled New Zealand 62 in the first dig and went on to record a dominant 372 run win. That was enough to reclaim the number one ranking from their opponents.
South Africa have been shorn of one their most threatening bowlers in Anrich Nortje, the quickest bowler in the Proteas’ attack and their leading wicket taker this year. One suspects that the Indian batters, for all the improvements they have made against fast bowling, would not have enjoyed facing Nortje on the bouncy tracks on the Highveld. But the return of Duanne Olivier from English county cricket, who has been taking his first-class wickets at only a shade over 11 this season, is surely more than welcome.
Besides that swap, this is a fairly settled South African side. Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar will almost certainly open the batting, with Rassie van der Dussen, Keegan Petersen, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock likely to comprise the rest of the top-order. There may well be a place for all-rounder Mulder, whilst Maharaj is also likely to play as the only frontline spinner in the squad. Rabada, Ngidi and Olivier look the likeliest candidates to round out the South African attack.
India are facing injury issues of their own. Opener Rohit Sharma will play no part in this test series or the ODIs that follow it. Shubman Gill is also out injured. That leaves KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal, who scored an excellent century against New Zealand but has struggled in seam-friendly conditions, as the first choice openers. Despite their recent struggles, expect Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to play, with the sixth spot likely to go to either Shreyas Iyer or Hanuma Vihari.
Iyer has the edge in form after a century on debut against New Zealand, but Vihari the greater familiarity with the conditions having just toured South Africa with India A. Rishabh Pant will keep, but the absence of Ravi Jadeja leaves a hole in the lower order. India may look to strengthen the batting by playing Shardul Thakur over Ishant Sharma. Ravichandran Ashwin – who can also contribute with the bat – Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami are almost certain to play.
This is a difficult match to call. India have proved they can play and win where seam bowling rules supreme with their successes in England and Australia. But England are in dire straits whilst Australia seemed to get just about every decision wrong during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. The pitches Down Under, having not been played on at all that season, were also more docile than those India will face in South Africa. Still, this undeniably is a very formidable team when it is firing on all-cylinders.
The current itineration of the Proteas, meanwhile, are capable of playing very well in stretches, but they lack the consistency of previous South African teams. They will also be without home support with this series set to be played behind closed doors. The loss of Nortje is a real blow, but the return of Olivier should just about make up for that and it shouldn’t be overlooked that India are without several key players. This might just be the perfect chance for South Africa to make a statement as a result.
Prediction: South Africa win.
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