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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South Africa 'have plans in place' for Kohli and India

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The first Test between the two sides gets underway on Friday.

South Africa coach Ottis Gibson has declared that the Proteas will have plans in place for Virat Kohli and his India team-mates in the upcoming three-match Test series beginning on Friday at Newlands.

Speaking to the media ahead of the first Test, the former England bowling coach said he does not expect Kohli to have the same impact as he did against his former side towards the end of 2016.

The Indian skipper had then struck two centuries and as many fifties to lead the hosts to a 4-0 series victory over England.

“They (India) were too good for us,” Gibson said.

“They played really well and were led very well by the captain, who got a lot of runs. There were times in those conditions where we couldn’t get him out,” he added.

“I think in these conditions it will be a lot different. We’ll have some plans for him as we will for every other player in the team,” Gibson replied when asked if Kohli could recreate the same magic on South African shores.

Gibson is staying cautious with Dale Steyn's return to international cricket.

Gibson is staying cautious with Dale Steyn’s return to international cricket.

The Proteas coach has a selection headache ahead of the first Test with Dale Steyn returning to international cricket after a long injury lay-off.

“He’s had a year off,” said Gibson about the long-time number one bowler in the world, who is recovering from a serious shoulder injury.

“He might well play this weekend, depending on the make-up of the team.

“I wouldn’t think that if you were to pick a three-man seam attack plus a spinner that you would want to put him into that three-man attack in case something happened. It would leave you too vulnerable in case he doesn’t finish a game.”

Indian top-order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, meanwhile, continued the message of confidence that has been a hallmark of the Indian party since they arrived in South Africa.

“Our preparation has been fantastic so far,” said Pujara. “We are very confident.”

Pujara has expressed confidence in India's preparation.

Pujara has expressed confidence in India’s preparation.

Pujara said the Indians had been getting ready for the tour since their three home Tests against Sri Lanka in November and December, with pitches prepared to be as much like those in South Africa as possible.

“When we were playing Sri Lanka we had this series in mind. Obviously it was different from what we might get here but we tried replicating what we could. Even in our net practices we had in mind that we would be touring South Africa and we were trying to practise accordingly,” said Pujara.

Pujara is on his third tour of South Africa. “Most of our players have been here before,” he said. “We are not bothered about the kind of pitch that is prepared. Bounce is always a challenge but we know what to expect from the pitch and the opposition. When you have spent some time on these pitches you know what to do.”

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Fifth Ashes Test talking points as under-pressure Moeen Ali keeps spot in England XI

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Moeen Ali is set to keep his place in the Sydney Test.

The Ashes series Down Under is heading towards its conclusion with the fifth and final Test which is set to get underway at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday.

Hosts Australia have already regained the famous urn from England after flying away to a 3-0 lead in the opening three Tests. The tourists, however, gave a good account of themselves in the rain-affected fourth Test at Melbourne which was ultimately drawn.

All attention now turns to Sydney as we enter the New Year. We look the at key talking points ahead of the final Test of a series which has been littered with some brilliant individual displays, mostly by players in an Australian shirt, as well as its fair share of controversies.

MASON CRANE TO MAKE ENGLAND DEBUT

The 20-year-old is set to make history for the tourists by becoming the first specialist spinner to play for England at the SCG in 90 years.

The leg-spinner has been a part of the touring party for England since the beginning of the series though his inclusion was largely seen as a way to integrate him into the setup for the future.

Crane would not really have expected to get a Test in his first ever tour but a side-strain to all-rounder Chris Woakes means that the Hampshire spinner is all set to make his England and Ashes debut at the historic cricket ground.

The young leg-spinner is set to make history for England at Sydney.

The young leg-spinner is set to make history for England at Sydney.

MITCHELL STARC RETURNS FOR AUSTRALIA

The Australian pace spearhead had to miss out on the Melbourne Test due a bruising in his heel which provided an opportunity for Jackson Bird.

Starc though, has fully recovered and has been included in the hosts’ playing XI for the SCG Test with Bird making way. Despite missing a game, the southpaw is the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes series with 19 scalps to his name and his return will prove to be a big boost for Steve Smith and his men as they look to begin 2018 on a high.

Starc has fully recovered and is raring to go.

Starc has fully recovered and is raring to go.

ASHTON AGAR MISSES OUT

With Starc returning to the playing XI, spinner Ashton Agar is set to miss out. With Sydney traditionally bringing spinners into play, the hosts had contemplated playing Agar as the second fiddle to Nathan Lyon.

However, the left-armer is now unfortunately going to miss out after Smith highlighted the extra grass on the Sydney pitch which should aid the fast bowlers.

Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Lyon are expected to form Australia’s bowling attack on Thursday with Mitchell Marsh providing the option for the fifth bowler.

Starc's return means Agar's hopes of playing in Sydney are all but dead.

Starc’s return means Agar’s hopes of playing in Sydney are all but dead.

MOEEN ALI TO KEEP HIS PLACE

The England all-rounder has had disastrous Ashes so far in what has been an Australian summer to forget for him. Moeen’s horrendous form with both bat and ball has led to many former players and pundits calling for the Englishman to be dropped.

Despite this, the all-rounder has played all four Tests so far in the tour in the absence of any viable alternatives in the spin-department. He has scored only 136 runs in seven innings Down Under while picking up just three wickets at a dismal average of 135.

With Sydney’s penchant of aiding slow bowlers, England are all set to retain Moeen in the squad with Crane joining him as the second spinner.

Ali is set to partner Crane in the spin-department for England.

Ali is set to partner Crane in the spin-department for England.

ENGLAND AIM TO END ASHES ON HIGH

After being blown away in the opening three Tests, Joe Root’s men did show some fight in the Melbourne Test, led by a record unbeaten double-ton by their stalwart Alastair Cook.

In a series where their dismal performances have been overshadowed by off-field alcohol-related debacles, England really need find a silver lining at Sydney.

They will take comfort from the fact the city has been traditionally their best hunting ground in Australia. Of the 55 Ashes Tests held at the famous ground, Australia have won 26 while England have come out on top 22 times.

The tourists did manage to avoid a second successive 5-0 Ashes washout Down Under but if they could make this 3-1, they will go home with something to finally smile about amidst the despair and gloom which currently surrounds the side.

Root will be hoping to have something to smile about at the end of the Ashes.

Root will be hoping to have something to smile about at the end of the Ashes.

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