After missing the second Test against in New Zealand in Mumbai due to a reported hamstring issue, former India captain (and vice captain) Ajinkya Rahane returned to the playing XI as Virat Kohli named a team with four pacers for the series opener against South Africa in Centurion on Sunday.
Kohli won the toss and opted to bat first. “I can tell you the combination we have for bowling is three pacers Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj and Mohammed Shami, an allrounder in Shardul Thakur and spinner Ashwin Ravichandran,” the captain said.
In Rohit’s absence, vice captain KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal are at the top of the order. There were plenty of eyes on what India will choose to do for the middle order, and it turned out they backed up their comments in the press about trusting the proven performers of the past by indeed trusting them in the first Test. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have both been short of runs, but both have past experience of playing in South Africa.
The hosts handed a debut to tall left-arm pacer Marco Jansen. South Africa’s fast bowling remains their strength but the loss of Anrich Nortje due to an injury is a major blow. Much will depend on former world number one Kagiso Rabada, whose form in the past two years has been moderate.
The hosts will also hope the injury-plagued Lungi Ngidi can recapture the form which enabled him to take 6-39 on debut against India at the same venue in 2017/18.
In South Africa’s favour, Centurion has been a fortress for the home side, with 21 wins and only two defeats in 26 Tests at the venue.
India XI: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli (captain), Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj
South Africa XI: Dean Elgar (captain), Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Wiaan Mulder, Marco Jansen (debut), Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi
India are the top-ranked Test team, despite their defeat in the inaugural World Test Championship Final, and are five places ahead of South Africa, who have lost several key players to retirement in recent years. This series too is part of the new WTC cycle and crucial away points are at stake for an Indian team has been travelling well.
Kohli leads an experienced side. Crucially, it has the fast-bowling fire power to match South Africa’s in conditions which usually favour pace.
No fewer than ten of India’s 18-man squad have toured South Africa before.
Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ishant Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and reserve wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha are on their fourth tour of the country.
Ajinkya Rahane and Mohammed Shami are on their third tour, while Rahul and Jasprit Bumrah were part of the closely-contested 2017/18 series which South Africa won 2-1.
The South Africa team wore black armbands in honour of anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, described as the country’s moral compass, who died on Sunday aged 90.
Both teams also held a minute’s silence.
Kohli seeking a historic away Test series win in South Africa said past history on the ground persuaded him to bat.
“The wicket looks nice,” said Kohli.
“There is a lot of grass on it but historically it tends to get faster from day two onwards.”
Kohli said he traced India’s recent success in away series to their win in the third Test in Johannesburg four seasons ago after they had lost the first two matches.
“That gave us a lot of confidence,” he said.
But he admitted: “this is a very challenging place to play cricket in. We have to be at our absolute best.”
South Africa gave a surprise debut to tall left-arm fast bowler 21-year-old Jansen.
“He’s had a lot of success against the India A side, he hit quite a few of their batters,” said South African captain Dean Elgar.
Jansen’s inclusion meant there was no place for fast bowler Duanne Olivier, back in the South African ranks after three seasons as a Kolpak player in England.
With AFP inputs