A trip to the Subcontinent is a Test for any side, but a South Africa team in transition could be pushed to their limits over the next few weeks. They face the challenge of a three Test series against the current leaders of the new World Test Championship and the side that is streaks ahead of all other nations in the ICC World Test Rankings.
Virat Kohli’s India side comprehensively beat West Indies 2-0 in the Caribbean in August and have been invincible on home soil. If they beat the South African tourists it will be their 11th straight home Test series victory, the most by any side in the long history of the game. They saw off a stronger South African side 3-0 four years ago.
INDIA SHOULD DOMINATE
KL Rahul has been dropped from India’s five-day side and Rohit Sharma gets another chance in Test cricket as he seems set to partner Mayank Agarwal at the top of the order.
In the bowling department, however, India are without their star paceman Jasprit Bumrah for the entire series as he has suffered a minor stress fracture in his lower back. Umesh Yadav has been recalled replacing the current world number three Test bowler, but on h the spinners will be key and the major threat to the Proteas batting line-up.
But these are minimal changes to a very strong Test side and the Indian Test juggernaut is ready to roll.
SOUTH AFRICA UP AGAINST IT
South Africa return to Test action for the first time since February when they were shocked by Sri Lanka in a 2-0 series defeat, the first Test a classic in which Kusal Perera hit an unbeaten 153 and shared a 10th wicket stand of 78 with Vishwa Fernando to chase down the 304 required to win.
Prior to that the Proteas beat Pakistan 3-0 in the UAE but lost to the Sri Lankans 2-0 in July 2018 and are now missing AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn who have retired from the game’s longest format. These are the three best South African players of the last decade and take some replacing.
Theunis de Bruyn is the player set to replace Amla at number three, whilst Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander must step up with the ball. Lungi Ngidi is a pace bowler on the rise, but it is the success of the spinners that will decide South Africa’s success.
Keshav Maharaj has added to his experience by starring for Yorkshire in English county cricket and is the tourist’s main weapon. But South Africa are bringing peashooters to a country armed with laser-guided rockets.
KOHLI TO PUT ‘DISAPPOINTING’ WORLD CUP BEHIND HIM
Virat Kohli has been usurped at the top of the ICC World Test batting rankings by Australia’s Ashes hero Steven Smith and came under criticism in the summer’s World Cup for not making match-winning contributions when the pressure was really on. The India captain didn’t score a century, despite making 443 runs at 55.37 and hitting five fifties.
He scored back-to-back centuries in the recent ODI series against West Indies but is without a Test century in eight Test innings and will be determined to put that right.
Kohli, like Smith, is a modern-day genius. And even more so than the Australian is a multi-format master who consistently performs on all stages.
Hanuma Vihari has been a prominent recent success in the top order and Rohit Sharma has been recalled in the opener role. This is a major opportunity for Rohit who has been the leading light in the one-day team for some time. He will be desperate to grab the chance and cement his position. He has the talent, but he has so much to prove he can’t be backed with any certainty. Shubman Gill also returns to the fold and, at the tender age of 20, is one of the brightest young talents on the world stage.
Rishabh Pant is a young dynamo who is yet to convert huge talent to world domination and his shot selection has been criticised. He will take the gloves and bat lower down and, although he is not a bet to be leading scorer, he is capable of more than cameo hitting.
With Cheteshwar Pujara the patient accumulator a genuine rival in the top batting markets at 11/4 on the 10Cric app
Kohli is the sensible short-odds stake to be the leading home batsman in the series at 6/4, but Pujara has the capacity to notch at least one major three-figure score and is the better price play.
WHERE DO THE SOUTH AFRICAN RUNS COME FROM?
The challenge in India for any overseas batsman is to acclimatise to the conditions, play the spin and bat long. The South African line-up at first glance does not fill punters with massive confidence. South Africans grow up on quick bouncy tracks where the ball comes on to the bat and is played on top of the bounce. The lower, slower and turning tracks in India are majorly different and require a completely different mental approach.
Faf du Plessis is joint favourite with Aiden Markram to be the top batsman in the tourist’s side and averages 43.95 in his 58 Tests. Now the most experienced player in the top order, Faf has heaps of experience in India, playing regularly in the Indian Premier League. He will be the wicket most wanted by his Indian adversaries, but he averages only 8.57 in four Tests played in the country. Temba Bavuma is a young talent and Theonis du Bruyn will be tested at number three. But this African batting line-up is thin and there for the taking.
Markram has two centuries in three matches in India on this tour after playing well in advance of the series commencing and goes into the first Test with plenty of confidence. The opener scored 100 off 118 balls against Board President’s XI after making 161 for South Africa A against India A in Mysore.
It may not take many runs to land this market and Quinton du Kock brings some appeal as he naturally scores quick runs. If he brings form and enjoys a couple of decent performances he is the play at around 6/1 to be the Proteas top series bat.
WILL INDIA MISS BUMRAH?
Any team would miss one of the world’s best bowlers, but in India the injury to Bumrah may not have quite the same effect as England losing James Anderson at the start of the recent Ashes series in England. India will look for wickets from their seamers with the new ball, but it will be the spinners that the African batsmen fear.
Ravi Ashwin is the spearhead of the spin attack and the 33-year-old revels in Tests on home soil. Of his 342 Test wickets and massive 234 have been taken in India and only 108 overseas. That perfectly illustrates the threat to South Africa of Ashwin and his fellow spinners and makes the off=spinner a great play to be the leading wicket-taker.
Kuldeep Yadav is the slow-left- arm chinaman bowler who will provide spin from the other end. The 24-year-old provides a major threat too, and Ravi Jadeja too. But Ashwin is the Rolls Royce and where the money should be invested.
KESHAV MAHARAJ SEEKING TO TURN THE TABLES
Maharaj is a 29-year-old who has taken 94 Test wickets in his 25 Tests to date. The pitches will suit him, but he is going to be bowling against batsman that are far more at home on the surfaces than he teammates.
Kagiso Rabada is the fast bowler who will look to take scalps with the new ball, but it is the slow-left-arm of Maharaj that will bowl the most overs for the tourists and is the obvious play to take the most wickets. Dane Piedt may plat as an off-break bowler and Zubayr Hamza is in the squad with his leg=breaks, but Maharaj is the key man.
THE SERIES PREDICTION
India start this series as strong favourites in their own back yard and are the best Test team in world cricket so why would you back against them? In short, you wouldn’t and shouldn’t, but the challenge is to find better value than the heavily odds-on price on them to take the series.
With South Africa’s efforts against a weaker Sri Lankan spin attack in the past year being a major cause of concern for the tourists the best option if to play the correct score market. India will dominate this series and a 3-0 result at 15/8 is a far more appealing prospect for punter’s than taking India in the individual Tests.
But I’m taking 2-0 to India as the weather is likely to play a major part on the 1st Test and therefore 2-0 at 100/30 is taking my money.
THE 1st TEST IS WHERE INDIA GET OFF TO A FLYER
The series gets underway at the YSR Stadium in Visakhapatnam where winning the toss is important. If India bat first expect them to go big and dominate. South Africa will hope to win the toss and make runs before the pitch breaks up.
Rain is forecast on all five days and that is likely to play a major part in deciding the match. The draw is definitely a play. Rain in this part of the world at this time of year can be heavy enough to see play abandoned for a day, as happened in one of South Africa’s warm-up games.
The second and third Tests of the series will be played at Pune and Ranchi from 10 and 19 October respectively.