The threat of rain looms large over all five days of the opening Test with the latest forecast predicting an almost 80 per cent chance of showers on day one itself.
While the two teams will be wary of the prospect of a rain-curtailed game, they will have their eyes firmly fixated on the big prize, with 120 vital ICC World Test Championship points on offer in the series.
Saha beats Pant to wicketkeeping slot
Young Rishabh Pant might have become the first Indian wicketkeeper to register overseas Test tons in England and Australia last year but it is veteran Wriddhiman Saha who will take the gloves for the hosts in the upcoming three-match series.
The 34-year-old’s last Test appearance came against South Africa at the start of 2018 with subsequent shoulder injuries opening the door for Pant to make his debut in the format.
To drop a wicketkeeper who averages more than 44 with the bat is a bold call by skipper Virat Kohli who has termed Saha as the best pure glovesman in the world.
“Saha’s keeping credentials are there for everyone to see. He’s played well for us whenever he’s got a chance with the bat for us also,” Kohli stated.
“It was unfortunate that he was out for such a long period with an injury, and according to me he’s the best keeper in the world. In these conditions, and with what he’s done for us in the past, he’ll start for us.”
Spotlight firmly on Rohit after poor warm-up outing
Along with dropping the big news of Saha’s return to the playing XI, Kohli more or less confirmed that Rohit Sharma will open the batting for the hosts alongside Mayank Agarwal.
“We are in no hurry with Rohit Sharma as opener. He will be given time and space to find his rhythm and the way he wants to play at the top,” said Kohli in his pre-match address to the media.
The India limited-overs deputy skipper’s Test record screams average so far, especially in overseas conditions where he averages less than 27. While his home record is more than handy, Rohit’s display against the Proteas in the recent practice game has thrown further doubts over his suitability to red-ball cricket.
After being dismissed for a second-ball duck by Vernon Philander, the spotlight will only intensify on Rohit in the coming series with his vulnerabilities against quality swing and seam well known.
In fact, Philander and Kagiso Rabada have already had the beating of him three times apiece in the past in Tests, and the South African new-ball bowlers will most definitely pose a rigorous examination of Rohit’s technique once again.
Visitors looking to break India’s home dominance
South Africa were resoundingly thrashed 3-0 the last time (2015-16) they toured India for a Test series and a lot has changed for the visitors. Stalwarts such as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn have moved on and it is very much a transitional and relatively inexperienced Proteas Test side that travels.
While they will be boosted by the return of their regular skipper Faf du Plessis, the visitors have their task cut out against the No1 ranked hosts who are targeting a record 11th Test series win on home soil. Still, Du Plessis and his men are not to be taken lightly and they showed plenty of grit and determination in the recently drawn T20 series against India.
One of the key men who could give the hosts plenty of trouble is Philander and the ace seamer wants the senior players in the side to step up in India.
“The spotlight will be on a lot of big players to make a statement,” said Philander.
“Our job is to come here and give the first punch as India is obviously expected to do well. It’s a tough start playing India in India but I don’t think the South Africans would have wanted it any other way.”
India: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Humza, Quinton de Kock (wk), Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi.
Know more about Sport360 Application