South Africa vs India | Thursday 5 October | The Punjab Cricket Association Stadium | Mohali | 06:00
Having wrapped up the T20 and ODI series on their tour of India, the Proteas now turn their attention the four-match Test Series. The South Africans travel incredibly well, having not been defeated in an away Test Series in 10 years while India have only lost one series at home in the last nine years. It’s a classic case of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. With that in mind, fans of Cricket’s purest form of the game are in for a treat when the teams meet at Mohali on Thursday morning.
To Win Match
South Africa 18/10
The Proteas will be on a high after winning both limited overs legs of the bi-lateral series. However, they will be well aware that the real test starts now. The South Africans haven’t lost a Test Series away from home since the 2005/06 season when they were convincingly beaten 2-0 in the three match series on Australian soil. The only surviving member of that series is AB de Villiers, who has gone from a promising young talent to an absolute world-beater. He will be key to the South Africans keeping that record intact come the end of the fourth Test.
Many believe that South Africa’s success will hinge on how well they cope with the onslaught of spin that will be thrown their way. In AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis; the Proteas have three of the best players of slow bowling in world cricket at the moment. Amla, however, hasn’t been in the best of form and will need to step it up as he captains side against an Indian team looking to redeem themselves after their disastrous showing in the limited overs leg of the tour. While the South African innings will be built de Villiers, du Plessis and Amla; they will need to be supported by the likes of Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma and Stiaan van Zyl who all have limited experience playing Test Match Cricket on the sub-continent. How these inexperienced guys handle the likes of Ravi Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja may well set the tone for the rest of the series.
South African fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of seeing what Kagiso Rabada can do in the longest format of the game. The young quick bowled magnificently well in the T20 and ODI series and will be looking to cement a permanent place in the Test Squad. Many believe that he will replace Vernon Philander in South Africa’s three-pronged pace attack sooner rather than later, especially with Big Vern struggling impact games as he did two or three seasons ago. The Proteas come into the Test Series with three specialist spinners in the squad - Simon Harmer, Dane Piedt and Imran Tahir - who will all relish the opportunity of bowling on rank turners. This series also represents the last chance that Tahir will get prove that he is worthy of a Test spot. While his form in the shorter formats of the game has been excellent, he’s struggled to consistently land the ball in the right sort of areas in the Test arena, allowing opposition batsmen to score freely from his end while the pressure is on at the other.
The pressure is building on the Indians who know that losing all three legs of a bi-lateral series on home soil simply isn’t good enough. The team will be bolstered by the return of Ravi Ashwin, who they desperately missed after a side strain ruled him out of the latter parts of the ODI series.
While this Indian squad looks strong on paper, they will have to do incredibly well to knock the wind out of the South African's sails. The one man they’ll be relying on to build their innings around will be Virat Kohli. The diminutive top-order batsman will captain the side having only played 37 previous Test Matches. The men in blue can’t pin all of their hopes on Kohli, however. They will need the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to chip in if they are to stand any chance against the Proteas. While Rahane and Sharma are in good form, there will still be question marks surrounding Dhawan who didn’t have the best of times with the bat in the T20 and ODI series. He did, however, manage to grab himself a 50 in the last ODI though, which will go some way to repairing his shattered confidence.
If India are going to win this series, they are going to be greatly reliant on their spin-heavy bowling attack. Ravi Ashwin is nearing a return to full fitness and should be ready by the time the teams take to the field in Mohali. Ravindra Jadeja has also been recalled to the squad after taking 24 wickets at an average of 8.25 in three matches in the Ranji Trophy - India’s domestic First-Class competition. They’ll also be able to call on Amit Mishra, the attacking leg spinner bowls an outrageously good googly and will be looking to pick up wickets while Ashwin and Jadeja keep things quiet at the other end.
The wicket at The Punjab Cricket Association Stadium was renowned for being one of the liveliest in the country. India were even skittled for 83 on the first day of a Test Match against New Zealand in 1999. However, over the years it has died down quite drastically. High-scoring draws aren’t uncommon on the ground as the predictable bounce and slow nature of the pitch have turned it into something of a batsman’s paradise. India have won their last two games here, both victories coming against Australia.
The weather report looks good for the duration of the match with no rain set to fall at the time of publishing. Temperatures shouldn’t affect the players like they did in the ODI and T20 series with the mercury set to hover between 27°C and 30°C throughout the five days.
Verdict: Draw 2/1
I expect the first Test Match to quite a tentative affair with both teams feeling one another out without wanting to take too many risks. This, coupled with the nature of the wicket at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium in Mohali, means the first test has all the makings of a bit of a bore-draw.
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