It was, for a change, a squad that virtually picked itself. Even the inclusion of Jasprit Bumrah was expected after his performances in shorter formats.
Picking the playing XI will certainly be tougher than picking the 17 who are making up the touring squad. An extra opener, an extra wicket-keeper, a seam bowling allrounder, two spin allrounders. All the bases that could have been covered… are. It is the best squad India could have picked.
A lot will depend on the kind of wickets that South Africa will roll out for the series, but there some questions that still persist.
Virat Kohli (captain)
Over the past two years, he has emerged as one of the world’s premier batsmen. He scores quickly, his temperament is great, he has been breaking records in almost every game. But, if there is perhaps one chink in his armour it has to be his record against the moving ball. It is a falling that Kohli is aware of and one that he has spent a lot of time working on. Still, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada will test him and while India would love for him to come out on top, one can’t say that with any certainty.
M Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan
A settled opening pair is the cornerstone of a good Test team. The openers, over time, strike a balance and have a good understanding which translates into runs in the middle. While Vijay has comeback well from injury in the series against Sri Lanka, the battle between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul means there are still no certainties about who his opening partner will be. Dhawan might look like he has sneaked ahead but his technique against the moving ball isn’t the most convincing.
Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma
Pujara and Kohli are untouchable in their slots. But the current form of Ajinkya Rahane must have thrown a huge spanner in the works. India batting coach Sanjay Bangar cited the impeccable overseas record of Rahane in a press conference recently but that was when he was in form.
As his scores (4, 0, 2, 1, 10), Rahane has had a poor Sri Lanka series. His 17 runs is the second lowest series tally for an Indian top order batsmen in a series (min five inngs) after Mohinder Amarnath’s one run in six innings against WI at home in 1983. And some might argue, international cricket is no place to regain your form.
Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Parthiv Patel
Saha will play and there is no reason to doubt his class behind the wickets. His acrobatic takes will give the bowlers much more confidence than the bumbling slip fielders ever will. But as good as his keeping has been, will his batting give this team the same kind of fillip? Patel, hopefully, won’t need to play but he has the experience to step up if called upon.
R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya
Before the second Test, Virat Kohli called Ashwin and Jadeja allrounders. Their batting has saved India at times and give the team an advantage at others and their bowling has guided India to an enviable record at home. In South Africa, though, only one of them is likely to play. Ashwin is more attacking; more creative but Jadeja’s accuracy could be the ideal foil for the pacers. A tough, tough decision to be made here.
With Pandya, though, there is no doubt, He will play but there is the element of the unknown when it comes to the seam bowling allrounder. He has never really played away from home and one can’t quite be sure of what kind of performance he will deliver. He has been rested and should be ready to put his best foot forward. Either which way, he will give this team balance.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah
The fast bowling unit looks good. Bhuvneshwar and Shami should walk into the XI but the third seamer slot sees a lot of competition. Ishant has looked good against Sri Lanka, can get uncomfortable bounce, bowl long spells and he is India’s most experienced seamer as well. Umesh is consistently the quickest of India’s bowlers, he can run in all day and his out swinger is a work of art. Jasprit is most likely just going along for the experience. He hasn’t played first class cricket since January and it is difficult to say whether he has the stamina and the experience to play Test cricket. Still the biggest question for the seamers is going to be whether they can transition into becoming the main wicket-takers? For almost two years, Ashwin and Jadeja have dominated the wickets columns but can these seamers step up and run through batting orders?
India squad for the Test series against South Africa
Virat Kohli (captain), M Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Parthiv Patel, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.
India’s tour of South Africa, 2018
1st Test: Cape Town, 5-9 Jan
2nd Test: Centurion, 13-17 Jan
3rd Test: Johannesburg, 24-28 Jan