SA vs. IND – 1st Test Preview

India and South Africa have had a very different road coming into this series, with India having played a total of 15 Tests since their last Boxing Day affair, while South Africa have played only 6 Tests. India’s last Test was also just a few weeks ago, while South Africa haven’t played since June. However, as has been shown in the Ashes, with Australia’s sheer dominance over England, this may not always be a curse.

South Africa are coming into this series with a very different squad, and in all honesty, very little experience. There are only two players in the top 6 who have played more than 50 Tests, and they are new captain Dean Elgar (69) and former captain, Quinton de Kock (53). Remember also that de Kock is likely to miss at least one Test throughout this series with the birth of his first child, and South Africa’s experience level gets a sharp decrease.

Added to this is the unfortunate news that strike bowler, Anrich Nortje has been ruled out of this series with a persistent injury. Nortje has blossomed at the highest level and has continued to demonstrate extreme pace and skill. He will be a big loss to South Africa’s bowling attack, which will rely, as per usual on the shoulders of Kagiso Rabada.

South Africa have a number of choices for their middle order. Do they go with the domestically experienced Sarel Erwee, who has been knocking on that door to Test selection for a number of years? Or will they continue to put their faith in Keegan Peterson, who showed some signs of solid technique, albeit very shot-lived during his maiden Test series earlier this year? Erwee also recently impressed with a fine series against India A earlier this month, as he was the leading run scorer with 251 runs at a healthy average of 50.2, including two half-centuries, a best of 97. It could be toss up between the two, who will the selectors choose? Only time will tell.

Bottom line, South Africa’s batting has been a problem for a number of years, it needs to start showing signs of improvement. What was enjoyable about watching Marnus Labuschagne, Dawid Malan and Joe Root bat in the Ashes, is them taking their time, building an innings, and fighting for their runs. We need to start seeing some of that from the South African batsmen.

Temba Bavuma is case in point. A decent Test average of 32.26 with 15 half-centuries, his Test place is still not yet cemented. He has proven he has the ability to fight for his runs and build an innings, often more so than any of the other top 6, he just needs to start increasing that conversion rate. With only one Test century to his name after 44 Tests, that is worrying, and with other players like Kyle Verreynne around, he knows this is his time now to cement his place.

The next question lies in the bowling attack, Lungi Ngidi would ordinarily be a certain pick, but he has played zero professional cricket in the past 6 months, he was not picked at all during the IPL in October or the T20 World Cup, which would have given him at least some match fitness. Ngidi does have a solid Test record with an exceptional bowling average of 19.14 in the 4 Tests he’s played in 2021, and an overall career average of 23.31. He is fully fit and ready to go, and the more he bowls, the better he will get. The only way he’ll get match ready is by playing in matches, it’s a catch 22 situation, but for me, he is still a certain pick as opposed to handing a debut to one of the young quicks in the squad. Their time will come, but the first Test of a series sets the tone, and you go in with your best XI. Otherwise, you risk pulling an England.

Despite my personal feelings on Duanne Olivier, the injury to Nortje gives Olivier the chance of a return to play Test cricket for South Africa. His record in the domestic first-class competition is impressive and he has been the leading wicket taker with 28 wickets at a miserly average of 11.14. His height, pace and aggression could be the perfect substitute for Nortje.

India have had a successful year of Test cricket, their only blemish was losing the World Test Championship final against New Zealand, but they have successfully beaten Australia in Australia and England in England this season. Can they make it a trifecta and become the second subcontinent team to win a Test series in South Africa? This could be their best chance yet.

With a bowling line up that can match any of the world’s best, with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Ishant Sharma – they boast a formidable pace attack. India don’t have Ravindra Jadeja, but Ravi Ashwin has had an extraordinary year with the bat, with an incredible average of 49.85 in Tests in 2021, and a bowling average a of just 16.23 (although the majority of these Tests were at home).

A significant problem India do have is that of Ajinkya Rahane who has had a torrid time in 2021, averaging just 19.57 in the 12 Tests he’s played. Do India risk another bad series from him, or do they show faith and hope that his form returns, sooner rather than later?

The next question for India is that of Shreyas Iyer or Hanuma Vihari? Shreyas grabbed his opportunity at the highest level with his maiden Test century and fifty to boot in his debut Test. His patience, skill and determination were at full fore in this Test and he showed he had what it takes. Can he carry that on in an overseas tour though? Vihari meanwhile impressed in the SA-A tour with three half-centuries to his name, and as such, has great first-hand experience of playing in South Africa. If India decide to leave Rahane out, this could open the door for both to play on Boxing Day.

South Africa are tough to beat at home, but India are not afraid of a challenge, and quite frankly, are not the same team that toured4 years ago.

Rain has threatened to dampen spirits for the Boxing Day Test with rain predicted for 4 of the 5 days, but as we all know, weather reports are seldom accurate.

The first Test starts on Boxing Day at 10am, live on SuperSport and SABC.








Posted in The Popping Crease.