The pacers from both dugouts will determine the final outcome of the series © Getty Images/AFP
The pacers from both dugouts will determine the final outcome of the series © Getty Images/AFP

After the #Virushka wedding, cricket finally takes center stage as India commence their African safari from January 5. India  and South Africa lock horns in the first of the three Tests at Cape Town. Both teams, on paper, promise for a mouth-watering contest. While South Africa’s key players will be returning from injuries (Dale Steyn, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock), India will gear up to maintain their form after strengthening their base at home.

Talking about numbers, India are yet to win their maiden series in South Africa. Since 1992, India have been travelling to the African nation. Their first tour was led by Mohammed Azharuddin. Since then, India have played 17 Tests — winning two and losing eight here. Nonetheless, the numbers start to improve a bit in contemporary era. In the last three series, India have won 2-4 from eight Tests. Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and of course Sreesanth are to be credited for that.

The pitches in South Africa offer extra pace and bounce, and India have compulsive pullers of the red cherry in Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, KL Rahul. However, the onus will be on the much-improved pace-battery. The likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav have been to South Africa before, and are much-improved bowlers since. Even if South Africa prepare seam-friendly tracks, India have the ammunition to put up a fight. The real task for Indian pacers will be to hunt in pairs, and bowl long spells.

From the batsmen’s perspective, it will all boil down to their mindset. Rahane is in poor form, but raises the bar playing abroad. Kohli, Pujara and Rohit have to consolidate from where they left against Sri Lanka. The challenge will be to not fall prey to soft dismissals, and maintain consistency.

India likely XI: Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin/Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar/Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav/Jasprit Bumrah

Ravindra Jadeja is down with viral fever. He will most likely be the containment bowler. However, Ashwin will replace him if he misses out. On the other hand, Bhuvneshwar will spearhead the attack due to his experience and current form. If the pitch turns out to be flat, and weather will remain hot, he can be replaced by Ishant. (The lanky pacer, though, averages over 40 in South Africa). Shami and Umesh will be the second and third seamer respectively.

Bumrah may also be handy. Recently retired pacer, Ashish Nehra wants the team management to pick Bumrah at Cape Town. “He has the most lethal yorker among the five pacers along with good slower ones. Also he has an awkward high-arm action, which can be very difficult to pick initially. All these factors work in Bumrah’s favour. Also, if the pitch is flat, he will be more handy. Bumrah has the ability to bowl long spells. He has done it for Gujarat, so I don’t see any reason why he can’t do it for India,” opined Nehra.

Also, Bumrah generates extra pace and will be a valuable addition if welcomed on a flat-track.

South Africa likely XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers/Quinton de Kock (wk), Temba Bavuma, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn/Andile Phehlukwayo

To fan the fire, India haven’t won a Test in Cape Town. From 4 encounters, they have managed to draw two and lost twice. Nonetheless, this might be their best chance, and add  spark to an otherwise dismal record in South Africa.

In other news

There will be a toss up among audience choice. Ajay Devgn’s Zuban Kesari or Abhinav Kumar —  India’s head at Trivago will hog viewers’ attention during the ad breaks.

We, at CricketCountry, would desperately want to know the reason why Devgn (almost) pokes his eyes while endorsing a pan-masala brand.

Squads

India

Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli(c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha(w), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Parthiv Patel, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Hardik Pandya, Lokesh Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja

South Africa

Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis(c), Quinton de Kock(w), Andile Phehlukwayo, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Chris Morris, Vernon Philander, Theunis de Bruyn

Time: 14:00 IST