IND vs SA: India look to continue dominance

India’s Head Coach Ravi Shastri (left) demonstrates a finer point to Cheteshwar Pujara during a practice session in Visakhapatnam on Tuesday. AFP

Just four members of the Indian team, of which two aren’t featuring in the playing XI, turned up for the practice session on the eve of the opening Test against South Africa. Skipper Virat Kohli dropped in only for the obligatory pre-series press conference, wearing a chirpy look and handling questions with smile plastered on his face.

There are reasons why the Indian skipper is oozing with confidence. Not only have the Indians been in sensational form at home since the start of 2013, winning a whopping 23 matches out of 29, they thrashed the South Africa 3-0 the last time when the Proteas arrived with more experienced side. With South Africa going through a difficult rebuilding phase, the Indians are favourites to triumph this time as well and extend their lead at the top of the ICC World Test Championship.

The two architects of the 2015 mauling will once again play pivotal roles when action sets off at the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium on Wednesday. Off-spinner R Ashwin, returning to the playing XI after being benched during the West Indies series, and the rejuvenated Ravindra Jadeja bagged 54 wickets between them in four matches (Ashwin: 31 wickets, Avg: 11.12; Jadeja: 23 wickets, Avg: 10.82).

The duo, as different as the chalk is from the cheese in the way they operate, form one of the most potent spin bowling combos. While off-spinner Ashwin is always on the attack, continuously trying to outsmart batsmen with his guile, left-armer Jadeja relies on consistency and preys on the patience of the batsmen. They complement each other brilliantly and have been instrumental in India’s fantastic home run. South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia, all have tried to counter them only to fail miserably. On what are expected to be spin-friendly tracks, it could be a deja vu for South Africa.

India also look solid in the batting department. Although white-ball legend Rohit Sharma will be donning the pads for the first time as an opener in whites and result of the risky experiment will be known only after some trial runs, Mayank Agarwal is nicely settling into the side with good shows in Australia and West Indies. 

Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari provide depth to the middle-order while the return of Wriddhiman Saha injects stability into the side. Ashwin and Jadeja are no mucks with the bat and can be considered as spinning all-rounders in home conditions. For the first match at least, veteran Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami will share the pace bowling responsibilities and the duo can be potent with the old ball, especially when it starts reversing.

South Africa, once great travellers to India but now a pale shadow of those sides, await a stern test of character. Their skipper Faf du Plessis had a miserable tour here last time, managing just 60 runs in four matches. By his own admission, the series taught him harsh lessons and he’s become a better batsman post that experience.

Onus will be on Du Plessis to lead from the front with some dogged knocks while a lot will be expected from the willows of Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock. South Africa have a potent pace attack in Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi although the latter may sit out of the opener.

Keshav Maharaj will lead the spin attack and the left-armer has the potential to cause damage since the current Indian batting line-up too aren’t expert players of spin like the sides of the old.

The pitch here had a rich brown appearance on match eve and is expected to be a typical Visakhapatnam wicket, a slow turner — perfect stage for Ashwin and Jadeja to unleash hell. In a such a case, Indians look favourites to draw the first blood but then stranger things have happened in cricket.

Teams (from):

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Shubman Gill.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Senuran Muthusamy, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rudi Second.

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