India opener Shikhar Dhawan has been declared fit and available for the first Test against South Africa starting on Friday at the Newlands in Cape Town. However, Ravindra Jadeja’s availability for the Test has been thrown into question with the all-rounder down with a viral flu for the past two days.
Dhawan had initially been ruled out of the first Test due at an injury but his return to fitness presents a conundrum for Virat Kohli and the Indian team management with three fit and in-form openers to choose from.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) confirmed Dhawan’s return and Jadeja’s illness through a press release on Wednesday.
“India opener Shikhar Dhawan is fit and is available for selection for the first Test. Dhawan had suffered a minor ankle injury before the team’s departure to South Africa,” the release said.
“Jadeja has been suffering from viral illness for the past two days. The BCCI Medical Team has been monitoring him and is also in touch with the local medical team in Cape Town.
“The BCCI Medical Team in consultation with the local medical team has decided that Jadeja will be taken to a hospital for treatment and expects him to fully recover in the next 48 hrs. A decision on his availability for selection for the opening Test against South Africa will be taken on the morning of the match i.e. 5th January 2018,” it added.
Kohli is expected to play only one specialist spinner in the playing XI on South African conditions. Hence, Ravichandran Ashwin is expected to operate as India’s lone-spinner if Jadeja is ruled out on Friday.
India play three Tests, six ODIs and three T20Is in a long and gruelling tour of the African nation to kick-start their 2018.
The two face-off on Friday at Newlands, Cape Town, in the first of three Test matches, with Virat Kohli‘s number one-ranked side having never won a series on Proteas soil.
The two nations last met in a Test series back in 2015, with the Indians clinching a 3-0 win at home in the four-match spectacle.
Here, we look at three on-the-field battles which could go a long way to deciding the contest.
AB DE VILLIERS VS VIRAT KOHLI
On paper, you could not get a more mouthwatering batting match-up. Two modern-day greats of the game, with Kohli being the world’s premier batsman and 33-year-old veteran De Villiers reigniting his Test career of late.
Let’s not forget that the duo are great friends, given they previously spent six seasons playing alongside each other for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.
However, both batters go into this series with differing fortunes. Kohli, who scored 2,818 runs across all international formats last year, has been in the form of his life since 2016 and he has the opportunity to lead his side to a record-breaking 10th consecutive Test series victory.
De Villiers, on the other hand, made his return to the Test set-up against Zimbabwe last month having had an 18-month hiatus from the game’s longest format. He has nothing to prove as such, apart from answering critics who say AB is past his best.
For Kohli, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to quicker and seaming wickets, with the Proteas attack boasting pace and the ability to move the ball off the deck. Expect the newly-married 29-year-old to come under fire from the hosts, but the batsman would have left no stone unturned in his preparation.
Flourish or fail – whatever Kohli does with the bat will influence the series one way or another.
KAGISO RABADA VS CHETESHWAR PUJARA
Only Steve Smith (1,305) scored more runs than Pujara (1,140) in Test cricket in 2017 – having played two less innings than the Australian captain.
It was simply a fairytale year for the 29-year-old Indian run machine and his renowned patience, as well as solid defensive technique, will be vital on fast, seaming surfaces against an attack inclusive of ace Rabada.
Despite being only 22, the young South Africa retracts that extra bounce in home conditions, is capable of bowling long spells at full tilt and doesn’t give you a moment’s peace as a visiting batsman.
For sure, it is set to be a fine contest at the top of the order with Pujara being very much the man India will rely on, other than Kohli, to score big and provide a solid foundation.
It will also be important for the Rajkot-born star to leave well and pick when and when not to drive and flash hard outside off-stump.
QUINTON DE KOCK VS HARDIK PANDYA
The South African wicket-keeper batsman will be tasked with chipping in with his fair share of runs down the order while India’s all-rounder, Hardik Pandya, brings welcome balance to the side.
Indeed, it’s that balance which is crucial to Kohli’s men. Pandya is more than capable with both bat and ball, and his ability to bend his back and bowl short stuff on quick pitches will work in the tourists’ favour.
While you wouldn’t say runs from either De Kock or Pandya would decide the series, both should play their part and contributions lower down should be telling.
It should also be noted that there is a chance Rohit Sharma could play in place of the 24-year-old Indian star.
“Champions Trophy win was a greatest moment in our history. Beating India, what a wonderful day, what a great day,” Sethi recounted about the win at the Oval in London.
Chairman PCB @najamsethi hopes that the year 2018 will bring more success for Pakistan cricket. Here is what he has to say as we head into an action packed year, Happy New Year to all cricket fans.https://t.co/zzHMJVJQT8
— PCB Official (@TheRealPCB) January 3, 2018
“We are now on track. We have achieved top position in T20Is and hopefully we will achieve the same in ODIs too very soon,” he added
Pakistan are due to host Australia and New Zealand in October and November this year in the UAE. Sethi is hoping to make use of this opportunity to get the two teams to play a match or two in Pakistan instead.
“I have already started efforts to try and convince Australia and New Zealand to play one or two matches in Pakistan,” he said in the video message.
The country saw the partial resumption of international cricket in the country after a long hiatus with the visit of the ICC World XI and Sri Lanka along with the final of the Pakistan Super League – all of which were held in Lahore.
“We hosted the PSL final, then World XI team came and then Sri Lanka arrived and played in Pakistan. West Indies will come and play in Pakistan in March,” he said.
With three matches being scheduled in Pakistan for the fourth edition of the PSL, Sethi hoped it would spark a revival of international cricket in the country.
With Pakistan experiencing a resurgence in international cricket under Sarfraz Ahmed’s leadership, Sethi believes the team is capable of continuing that winning form this year.
“Last year was very good for cricket. PCB and our team have achieved a lot in 2017. It was the collective dedication and team spirit that we did well. We are on a winning streak and it will continue,” he stressed.