South Africa vs India: First Test Preview

Batsman faces bowler in front of packed cordon

We preview the first of three Tests that India are set to play in South Africa, with the two sides going head to head at Newlands on 5 January. 

With a rather vapid one-off four-day Test against Zimbabwe out of the way, the Proteas can now look forward to a much sterner test in the form of the touring Indians.

Virat Kohli and co will know that their best chance of victory on this tour will be at Newlands, so starting off on the right foot will be of the utmost importance.

South Africa vs India | 5 January – 9 January | Newlands, Cape Town

To Win Match
South Africa 7/10 | Draw 3/1 | India 11/4

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South Africa
There is absolutely one thing that the South Africans must avoid doing when the Indians come calling – bowling too much short stuff. We saw exactly how good Morne Morkel can be when he hits the right area of the pitch against Zimbabwe. Kagiso Rabada, too, is one of the best in the business when consistently landing the ball in the right areas.

The temptation will no doubt be there, but they needn’t overdo it. Ottis Gibson will no doubt be hammering it in – use one of two short balls to force the batsman back before hitting a good length and getting him to nick off. It’s a simple enough thing to do at this level, and you’d expect the discipline to be good from the two.

You can be sure, however, that Vernon Philander won’t resort to any short stuff. He’s an absolute master in South African conditions and will no doubt take the new ball along with Morkel. Philander has played all of his provincial cricket at Newlands and will use his knowledge of local conditions to get the early breakthroughs that the hosts will be craving.

Dale Steyn is unlikely to play as he gets back to full fitness while Keshav Maharaj will be used in a containing role as the three abovementioned seamers are rotated. The only question then, is whether to play Temba Bavuma as a specialist batsman or the all-rounder in Andile Phelukwayo. The former has struggled of late while the latter proved a hit against Zimbabwe late last year.

There are also a few concerns in the batting department. Will Quinton de Kock recover from his hamstring injury in time? Is AB de Villiers’ back okay to play five-day cricket? Is Faf du Plessis ready to come back into the side after a lengthy injury lay-off?

The top three pick themselves, with Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla set to complete a dangerous top three. From then on, it’s anyone’s guess. You feel that de Kock should be fine as he’s the only recognised wicket-keeper in the squad, and we know that AB doesn’t fancy the role.

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India
It has been a very, very long time since India played any Test cricket outside of the Sub-Continent (not including the West Indies). In fact, you have to go back as far as 6 January 2015, where they managed a draw against Australia at the SCG for the last time they played five-day outside of Asia or the Caribbean.

That doesn’t bode well then for Kohli and his charges as they go head to head with a South African side who will want revenge following their 3-0 series defeat in 2015/16. Their tour hasn’t got off to the ideal start either, with Ravindra Jadeja likely to miss the Newlands clash after contracting a viral illness.

That means that Ravichandran Ashwin will be in the team with three seamers. Three of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma will play. All of them will be desperate to show what they can do on the quicker, bouncier decks in South Africa after toiling on unresponsive Asian surfaces for the last few years.

The biggest test for the Indians will be with bat in hand. Fortunately, their top and middle order are all in great form. Whether or not Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli, and Rohit Sharma can translate their home form into solid away showings remains to be seen; especially in the face of an almost full strength South African attack.

Many will be looking to Kohli to get the runs here, but the South Africans can’t ignore the ability of Pujara to bat for inordinately long periods. The Indians will be hoping that he can get himself in and allow the others to bat around him in a bid to frustrate the South African attack. They most certainly have the ability to win – especially at Newlands.

Verdict: South Africa 7/10
Asian teams generally don’t do well in South Africa – that’s no secret. India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have played a combined 48 Tests in the Republic and have only managed five wins. India have only won twice in 17 attempts here. Get on South Africa at 7/10.

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Written by Jason Dewey for Hollywoodbets

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