Unfancied South Africa eye strong start against resourceful India

Match details
Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium, Visakhapatnam
October 2-6, 09:30 IST

The main picture

South Africa start the Test series against India as an underdog not by choice but because their Test-match experience in sub-continental conditions is limited and the spin-bowling arsenal, coming to a spin-friendly country like India, lacks depth and exposure. Let’s face it, any team shorn of the experience and skill sets of the now-retired Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn, is bound to be affected. In numerical terms, South Africa are missing close to 1600 runs in aggregate from Amla (941) and de Villiers (630) in India, and 26 wickets of Steyn at an average of 21.38. Of course, those numbers were accumulated over three or more tours, but for South Africa to challenge India, at least a couple of their batsmen must make centuries and a couple of bowlers must pose a wicket-taking threat every time they bowl.

The biggest positive for South Africa is Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Vernon Philander, Temba Bavuma, Keshav Maharaj—to name a few who are likely to play in Visakhapatnam—have gained sufficient match practice ahead of the Test series by playing for South Africa ‘A’ and against Board President’s XI in a three-day warm-up match in Vizianagaram last week. Opening the batting, Aiden Markram made hundreds against India ‘A’ and the Board President’s XI, Bavuma made an unbeaten 87 against Board President’s XI, and Maharaj and Philander have been among the wickets.

South Africa must believe that India, despite the resources they have to exploit home conditions, aren’t entirely impregnable. One obvious target area for the Proteas is Rohit Sharma, who will open for India for the first time in Test cricket. Notwithstanding Rohit’s decade-old experience as an international cricketer, the new role in the Test side is likely to make him edgy at the start. And, in Kagiso Rabada and Philander, South Africa have bowlers who have the variety of pace and swing to challenge Rohit’s technique. It’s a battle that has the potential to set the tone for the series, particularly with India captain Virat Kohli indicating Rohit will be given an extended run in his new role.

Ravichandran Ashwin is another player who finds himself in an unfamiliar situation having lost his place in the Test side to Ravindra Jadeja, mainly because of injuries in the last year. Kohli has confirmed that Ashwin will play alongside Jadeja in Visakhapatnam, but a challenge has been laid down to the Tamil Nadu off-spinner, whose performance with the ball will be influential particularly if India bat first and look up to their bowlers to win them the Test on days four and five on a deteriorating pitch.

While India have the conditions as their ally and the players to exploit them, South Africa have had the time to acclimatise and their preparedness will stand them in good stead for the start of an important series.

ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium pitch report and weather forecast

This is the second Test match to be hosted by this venue where India beat England in 2016. The weather forecast is for rain on all five days of the Test, and it’s possible that the overhead conditions could contribute to swing and seam movement early on. The pitch wore a brownish look and was devoid of grass on the eve of the match, suggesting it’s conducive to spin bowling too.

India vs South Africa 1st Test playing 11

Confirmed India playing 11: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Hanuma Vihari, 7 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Ravichandran Ashwin, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishant Sharma

Possible South Africa playing 11: 1 Faf du Plessis, 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Aiden Markram, 4 Temba Bavuma, 5 Zubayr Hamza, 6 Theunis de Bruyn, 7 Quinton de Kock (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dane Piedt, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Keshav Maharaj

How to watch India vs South Africa 1st Test?

The match is being aired on Star Sports 1, HD 1, Hindi 1 and Hindi 1 HD, while Hotstar will provide the live stream.