The very first time India toured South Africa in 1992-93, the series between these sides was named the ‘Friendship series’, given the camaraderie between the two nations following South Africa’s return to the cricket fold since apartheid.
When Peter Kirsten was mankaded by Kapil Dev, things turned sour between the two sides with South African batsman Dave Callaghan commenting, “So this is what the f****** Friendship Series is all about.” The Test series saw Jimmy Cook dismissed for a first-ball duck at Durban after waiting 21 years to play a Test match since his first-class debut. The relationship between the teams have come leaps and bounds since then. Even with the BCCI-Haroon Lorgat war proving to be a dampener, the teams share a remarkable bond despite the competitiveness exhibited on the field.
The 2018 series in South Africa made for some remarkable match-ups with India’s rejuvenated pace attack proving to be a menace for the Proteas. That is the kind of impact South Africa will look to make with their spinners this time around in India. After a disastrous outing in 2015 in India, South Africa return with a well-rounded spin attack comprising of Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy.
Of late, India hasn’t been as convincing against spin at home. Steven O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon had exploited this in 2017 and that Australian performance is something South Africa would want to emulate at Vizag in the first Test.
South Africa comes with a new-look team headed by interim director Enoch Nkwe, who likes to take cues from football. Just 36 years-old, Nkwe has had massive success in the domestic circuit with the Highveld Lions and later with Jozi Stars in the Mzansi Super League and was promoted as interim director of the national team.
On the other hand, hosts India, after drubbing the Windies in the Caribbean, return for a home season that will see them play Bangladesh and West Indies apart from South Africa. They have been dominant at home and have only lost four Tests in the last decade here—against South Africa in 2010, two Tests (and the series) against England in 2012 and against Australia at Pune in 2017.
Beating India at home is a huge task and at Visakhapatnam, South Africa would be up against a monumental task. In a transition period after the retirements of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, the Proteas batting is relatively inexperienced but for skipper Faf du Plessis and Dean Elgar. The younger lot in the team will bank upon the experience from the spin camps conducted here and the subsequent series against India A.
Venue: Visakhapatnam has hosted only one Test match prior to this. In that game in 2016 against England, Virat Kohli slammed a hundred followed by a half-century to bulldoze England and win by 246 runs. 15 of the 20 England wickets to fall in that Test were taken by the Indian spin trio of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Jayant Yadav.
Despite controversially benching him in the Test series in the West Indies, India should be looking to bring back Ravichandran Ashwin for the home Tests. The veteran off-spinner has a great record at home and teams up well with Ravindra Jadeja.
Will they play a third spinner in Kuldeep Yadav ahead of an extra batter? With Jasprit Bumrah ruled out of the series, which two among Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami starts? Do they stick by Rishabh Pant or bring back the experienced Wriddhiman Saha? These are few questions for India to answer ahead of their team selection for the first Test. In the past, the Ravi Shastri-Virat Kohli duo has made some surprising selections and that could continue which makes the final XI rather unpredictable.
Probable XI: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma.
The major question for South Africa is if they would field five bowlers or an extra batsman. Given how their 2015 tour went, it is likely that the Proteas will seek to bump up their batting at the expense of an additional bowler. The warm-up game against the Board President’s XI suggested that they are still uncertain about their batting order but the line-up as such is settled. This should see Theunis de Bruyn slot into the side in the middle-order. Aiden Markram, who struck a ton apiece in the games against India A and Board President’s XI, should open alongside Dean Elgar.
The only quandary they have might be regarding Senuran Muthusamy. Do they play an additional spin bowling all-rounder in him ahead of a proper batsman like Zubayr Hamza or do they trust in their two experienced spinners, Maharaj and Piedt?
Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamza, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt.
Kagiso Rabada vs Virat Kohli
The two have faced each other off enough times for us to know that there will be fireworks extending to this series. The relentless Rabada is a massive threat with the new and old ball and he had a stupendous series in 2018 in South Africa against India. But Indian conditions present a different challenge and a more assured Kohli. The Indian skipper averages 64.68 at home, and that swells to 81.84 since 2016. Rabada might look at the template set by Pat Cummins and look to bounce out Kohli but that move is fraught with risk.
Ravindra Jadeja vs Faf du Plessis
With the retirements of Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, South Africa will bank upon the experience of their skipper Faf du Plessis. But the middle-order batsman will have to get past Ravindra Jadeja to make an impact this series. In 149 balls that du Plessis has faced from Jadeja in Tests, he has made just 35 runs while conceding 131 dot balls and four wickets. The stats are heavily skewed in favour of the Indian spinner who has lately stepped up to another level in Test cricket.
Cover Image: Sandipan Banerjee