Can India conquer South Africa?

Cricket, featured, Test cricket

While an annihilation of the English has been thoroughly entertaining this summer, another blockbuster series awaits on Boxing Day, with the commencement of India’s tour of South Africa.

South Africa remains the only place where the Indian Test side are yet to win, but this time they will feel the wait must end.

South Africa are still in a rebuilding period, but at home they still possess many strengths.

The fact that India are continuing with this series is commendable, with omicron ripping through at the moment.

South Africa have already had the heartbreak of England, Australia and the Netherlands pulling out of their respective tours in recent times.

The series will be played behind closed doors.

Teams
The India squad has a couple of notable absences. One is the newly appointed Test vice-captain Rohit Sharma, who was India’s best batsman in England.

Another is premier all-rounder Ravi Jadeja. That will mean that the team combination will be slightly different. Shubman Gill is also unavailable due to injury.

Due to Jadeja’s absence, India should play a six-batsman, four-bowler combination.

Ajinkya Rahane was dropped for the second Test against New Zealand (though the BCCI cited it as injury) and he has been relieved of vice-captaincy duties, and he still shouldn’t make the side.

Ajinkya Rahane

(Photo by William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Likewise, Cheteshwar Pujara is on his last legs. Another poor series could be curtains for him.

I’d like to see the management continue to back Shreyas Iyer, as well as a return to the side for Hanuma Vihari.

Virat Kohli is back to his most successful overseas conditions as his quest for a long-awaited century continues. He averages 55.80 and 87.70 in Tests and ODIs respectively in SA.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Shardul Thakur are both handy with the bat, but I don’t think either should be trusted to bat in the top seven.

Therefore, conditions will dictate which one of the two should play. My playing XI is as follows: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Hanuma Vihari, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.

Rishabh Pant and Virat Kohli of India celebrate the final wicket and winning the Second LV= Insurance Test Match

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

South Africa also picked a large squad, with a few fresh faces.

They have been rocked by the injury of rapid quick Anrich Nortje, who was having a very impressive 2021.

This means that Duanne Olivier is set for a Test return after a three-year hiatus after he signed a Kolpak deal in England.

He has very impressive numbers in Test cricket and I’m looking forward to seeing how he goes.

He should be backed up adequately by Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. Vice-captain Temba Bavuma also returns after missing the West Indies series.

South African fans will be desperately hoping he can add to his solitary Test hundred.

South Africa will be mulling whether to play an all-rounder or six batsmen, with Wiaan Mulder competing for that role with six-foot-eight rookie Marco Jansen.

Quinton de Kock will only play the first Test, due to paternity leave. He is a huge loss to the side.

My South African cricket knowledge isn’t extensive, but here’s my attempt of a playing XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi.

Quinton de Kock

(Photo by Christiaan Kotze / AFP via Getty Images)

Flashback
India’s last tour of South Africa was in 2018, and it was an exhilarating series.

South Africa held their nerve in the first couple of Tests to take the series, but India fought well to win the last match on a spicy Wanderers pitch.

Since then, SA have had the likes of Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander retire, while India will be relying on the experiences of their bowlers from last time.

Similar green mamba conditions from South African curators this time may doom the side rather than provide assistance.

Final prediction
This series, like all of India’s major overseas tours, will be intense and closely fought.

India start as solid favourites, but their batting could still be fragile.

SA have enough to be competitive but there’s doubts if it’s enough to be consistent.

My prediction is 2-1 to India, however rain may spoil the party in the first Test.

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