De Villiers vs Kohli among key battles as South Africa host India

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While 2018 might only be a few days old, South Africa and India is billed as one of the Test series of the year.

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.

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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.

India's right handed batsman and captain Virat Kohli runs during a training session at the Newlands Cricket ground on January 3, 2018, in Cape Town, prior to the first of three cricket tests matches between South Africa and India. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

In fine fettle: Star man and captain Kohli.

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.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 02: Kagiso Rabada during the South African national cricket team training session at PPC Newlands on January 02, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Rabada has 105 wickets from 23 matches in Tests.

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.

India's bowler, Hardik Pandya looks on as he takes part in training session at the Newlands Cricket ground on January 3, 2018, in Cape Town, prior to the first of three cicket tests matches between South Africa and India. / AFP PHOTO / RODGER BOSCH (Photo credit should read RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

Rising star of Indian cricket: Pandya.

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PCB want Australia and New Zealand to play in Pakistan in 2018

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Sethi is hoping for some more international cricket in Pakistan in 2018.

Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Najam Sethi has declared that he will try to convince Australia and New Zealand to play in the country during 2018.

In a video message to outline plans for the new year, the PCB chief spoke about how 2017 had been a great year for Pakistan with the ICC Champions Trophy win among other things.

“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.

“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.

2017 saw the ICC World XI play a T20I series in Lahore.

2017 saw the ICC World XI play a T20I series 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.

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Best pictures as South Africa and India prepare for first Test at Newlands

The preparations are in full swing in both the camps as India and South Africa await the start of the first Test at Cape Town on January 5.

And as players from both teams sweat it out in the net sessions ahead of the Test series, we bring you some of the best pictures.

Cape Town's worst drought in decades may take some of the sting out of the Newlands pitch for the first Test between South Africa and India, starting on Friday.

There was a covering of green grass on the match surface when both teams practised on Tuesday, bringing a smile to the face of South African coach Ottis Gibson. But groundsman Evan Flint said the grass was thin and that the weather conditions had made it difficult to produce the seam-friendly surface which the home side would like.
There was some unseasonal light rain on Sunday and Monday - about four-and-half millimetres in total - but not enough to break the prolonged drought. "It made conditions a bit quicker," said Flint Flint has had to use borehole water and has been restricted to watering the outfield only twice a week, which means the playing area is drier under the surface than usual. "I think if the fast bowlers bowl well enough, there will be something in it for them," said Flint. But he did not expect conditions would give a lot of assistance to South Africa's pace attack. "It depends on who adapts quicker on the day - it is not necessarily favouring anyone," said Flint.

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