1st Test: India seek upper hand against inexperienced South Africa
- Much water has gone down the river since India last hosted a Test match against Windies in Hyderabad in October.
- This is only their third series since that win in 2018, and their first at home.
- In between, they've humbled Australia in their own den and made short work of the Windies.
VISAKHAPATNAM: There is a festive mood here ahead of the first Test. This laidback city with an old-world charm is getting ready for the first of two big festivals this year, but that should not deter its denizens from putting their demigods on a pedestal when India take on South Africa in their first home match of the World Test Championship (WTC).
The ACA-VDCA Stadium, where the Eastern Ghats forming a picturesque backdrop, should be the ideal setting for Virat Kohli and company to add to the 120 points they bagged from their Test series sweep in the Windies.
The three-Test series beginning here on Wednesday will be followed by the two-Test series against Bangladesh and a series of shorter-format matches against Sri Lanka and Australia before India head to New Zealand in January next. Much water has gone down the river since India last hosted a Test match against Windies in Hyderabad in October.
This is only their third series since that win in 2018, and their first at home. In between, they've humbled Australia in their own den and made short work of the Windies.
There has been a change of personnel along the way. Jasprit Bumrah has been ruled out due to a stress fracture of his lower back, while KL Rahul's poor form made the job of the team management easier. Keen to carve out a place for Rohit Sharma in the XI, they have now pitchforked him into the role of opener.
While Rohit would be keen to make it count, Rishabh Pant will be ruing a missed opportunities after skipper Kohli announced that Wriddhiman Saha would replace the Delhi stumper.
Saha has missed 15 Tests since last playing against the same opposition in Cape Town in 2018 - 13 due to injury followed by surgery and two in the Caribbean as the think-tank felt Pant deserved more chances. Those chances went abegging and Saha's credentials as a more accomplished 'keeper on surfaces that aid turn at home and where the bounce can be variable tilted the scales in favour of the Bengal stumper.
Rohit's white-ball credentials as an opener and the conviction that he's too good a player to be sitting out have offered the Mumbaikar, who has yet to cement his Test spot after 12 years in international cricket, a new lease of life.
Skipper Kohli alluded to Virender Sehwag and his ability to demolish rival attacks, but there's no gainsaying the fact that while he had to contend with Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman to get into the middle order, Rohit could not stake his claims emphatically even when Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were briefly dropped from Test elevens.
For the team management, though, it seems a well thought out strategy and it is willing Rohit to succeed in conditions Ravichandran Ashwin generally revels in. The offie, who was left out against the Windies with Ravindra Jadeja becoming the first-choice spinner, will be raring to go against a young South African squad yet to find a successor to Hashim Amla.
Aiden Markram made his mark in the tour match, but many of the South Africans are on their first Test tour of India. They may not carry the baggage of past scars, but lack of experience of Indian conditions will test Faf du Plessis's leadership.
The South Africans are set to opt for a three-pronged seam attack with two spinners - Keshav Maharaj and Dane Piedt - likely to assist them, while the Indians have gone with the pace of Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma alongside the guile of Ashwin and Jadeja, with local lad Hanuma Vihari chipping in.
Recommended DealsView More
Amazfit Bip Lite Smart Watch (Black)₹ 3,999₹ 3,999BUY Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless Industry Leading Noise Cancellation Headphones with Alexa (Black)₹ 23,490₹ 23,490BUY Canon EOS 1500D 24.1 Digital SLR Camera (Black) with EF S18-55 is II Lens, 16GB Card and Carry Case₹ 21,990₹ 21,990BUY Western Digital WDBHDW0020BBK-EESN Elements 2TB Portable External Hard Drive (Black)₹ 4,899₹ 4,899BUY JBL Flip 3 Stealth Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker with Rich Deep Bass (Black), Without Mic₹ 4,499₹ 4,499BUY JBL T460BT Extra Bass Wireless On-Ear Headphones with Mic (Black)₹ 1,999₹ 1,999BUY Microsoft Xbox One X 1TB Console - Tom Clancy's the Division 2 Bundle₹ 29,990₹ 29,990BUY Fire TV Stick with all-new Alexa Voice Remote | Streaming Media Player₹ 2,799₹ 2,799BUY GoPro Hero7 CHDHB-601-RW Camera(White)₹ 15,499₹ 15,499BUY Introducing Echo Show 5 - Smart display with Alexa - 5.5" screen and crisp sound (Black)₹ 5,399₹ 5,399BUY