India v South Africa: Cheteshwar Pujara against Keshav Maharaj and other key Test battles

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Pujara vs Maharaj will be one of the most anticipated battles.

After sharing the spoils in the preceding T20I series, India and South Africa now turn their attentions to the three-match Test series which gets under way in the coastal city of Visakhapatnam on Wednesday.

The hosts will look to make amends for their defeat at the hands of the Proteas in South Africa last year as they look to extend a formidable home record which has seen them win 10 Test series on the bounce.

The visitors, however, will be no pushovers as their fightback in the recent T20 series showed. As the two teams prepare for their red-ball showdown, we look at the three key battles that could decide the fate of the series.

Kohli v Rabada

With Steve Smith wasting no time in reclaiming his No1 ICC Test ranking with a stupendous Ashes campaign, India skipper Virat Kohli has the chance to make up lost ground in the three matches to come on home soil.

It hasn’t been the most prolific calendar year in the Test format for Kohli after his stellar displays in India’s overseas tour cycle of 2018, with the right-hander mustering just 159 runs in his five innings so far in 2019.

While he will take comfort from home conditions, the India superstar has his task cut out against Kagiso Rabada who looks determined to make up for an average World Cup campaign. Like Kohli, Rabada has seen the limelight snatched away from him in recent times with Jofra Archer and Pat Cummins hogging the headlines with their fast-bowling displays in the Ashes.

Expect these two fierce competitors to leave no stone unturned as they look to send a timely reminder of why they are still the best in the business in their respective departments.

ViratKohliIndia (1)

Pujara v Maharaj

Cheteshwar Pujara was at the forefront of India’s historic Test win in Australia last year but the top-order stalwart comes into the series on the back of a nightmarish tour of the West Indies where nothing really went his way.

The right-handed batsman is a completely different beast in home conditions, though, with his average touching nearly 62, and he will fancy his chances to swell his run tally against the visiting Proteas.

Pujara is, without a doubt, India’s best player of spin and he will look to impose himself early on against Keshav Maharaj. The South African left-arm orthodox spinner’s threat is not to be discounted, however, especially bearing in mind his recent red-ball form. Maharaj took the County Championship by storm for Yorkshire in the summer – the spinner claiming 38 wickets in just five games with the help of two separate ten-wicket match hauls.

While all eyes will be on India’s spin duo of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, it is Maharaj who could really steal the show in what will be his maiden Test appearance on the subcontinent. He should really relish the conditions on offer.

Maharaj is in menacing form at the moment.

Maharaj is in menacing form at the moment.

Shami v Markram

With India dealt a big blow in the form of Jasprit Bumrah’s injury, the onus will be on Mohammed Shami to step up in the pace department for the hosts. While spin is expected to be India’s primary mode of attack against the visitors, the pacers will have to play their part as well, and it is Shami who looks primed to lead the attack.

Shami was terrific for India in the Test series clean sweep in the Caribbean and the 29-year-old will now look to repeat those exploits at home where he averages a stellar 24.48.

The pacer, though, will need to be on the top of his game against South Africa opener Aiden Markram who is looking in ominous form at the moment. The 24-year-old struck two tons in the warm-up clashes in the lead up to the Test series and is arguably the most in-form South Africa batsman at the moment.

If Markram can dig in for the long haul, he can really boost the visitors’ chances in the series and Shami will be keen to ensure that the Proteas opener does not get his way.

Mohammed Shami.

Mohammed Shami is supreme at home.

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