Match Preview – South Africa vs India, ICC World Test Championship 2023-2025, 1st Test


Big picture: India chase history

The final frontier. That’s what South Africa has proven to be for India. Since South Africa’s readmission to international cricket, India have made eight Test tours to the country. The closest they came to winning was in 2010-11 when the three-match series ended 1-1.

Two years ago, players and experts alike felt that it was India’s “best opportunity” to win a Test series in South Africa. They won the first match but lost the next two to squander the chance.

This time it’s a shorter series, just two Tests – in Centurion and Cape Town. Whichever team wins the first will have an unassailable lead. With the disappointment of the ODI World Cup still lingering and the planning for the T20 World Cup in mind, can India squeeze a piece of history in between?

But as they experienced last time, it’s easier said than done. Temba Bavuma and his men will be motivated to keep their unbeaten home record against India intact. They will also be geared up to give Dean Elgar, their former captain who will retire at the end of this series, a fitting farewell.

The challenge for South Africa will be to get into the Test groove as quickly as possible – they last played red-ball cricket in March. This is also their first assignment in the current World Test Championship cycle. India started theirs in the West Indies, where they won the first Test before rain forced a draw in the second.

And the rain threat looms large in Centurion as well. There is a forecast of rain on the first two days of the Test.

Form guide

South Africa WWDLL (last five Tests, most recent first)

In the spotlight: Aiden Markram and KL Rahul

Aiden Markram is finally becoming the batter he was destined to be. Earlier this year, he completed the transformation in white-ball cricket, where he found success in the middle order. To revive his red-ball career, he tried the same in Test cricket as well. In 2022, he relinquished the opening slot and moved down the order but could manage only 109 runs in seven innings, at an average of 15.57. At the start of 2023, he moved back to the top of the order and scored 115, 47, 96 and 18 in two Tests against West Indies. He will be keen to build on that to become South Africa’s premier batter in all three formats.

KL Rahul is going through a transformation of his own. In his latest avatar, he will bat in the middle order and don the wicketkeeping gloves. He has been successful at No. 4 and No. 5 in ODIs, but South Africa is not an easy place to bat in. Rahul averages 25.60 in ten innings here. However, in nine of those innings, he opened the batting; a middle-order role may make things slightly more comfortable. He will also have the happy memory of scoring a hundred in Centurion when India played here two years ago.

His bigger challenge, perhaps, will be behind the stumps. While he has been keeping regularly in white-ball cricket, he has done so only once in first-class cricket, in a tour game in England in 2021.

Team news: Shardul Thakur or R Ashwin?

Kagiso Rabada (bruised heel) and Lungi Ngidi (ankle sprain) have recovered from their respective injuries and should feature in the playing XI. Keegan Petersen was the Player of the Series when India last toured South Africa, but his stocks have plummeted since then and he will compete with uncapped David Bedingham for a place.

South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Tony de Zorzi, 4 Temba Bavuma (capt), 5 David Bedingham/Keegan Petersen, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Gerald Coetzee, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Lungi Ngidi

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Shubman Gill, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Shreyas Iyer, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Shardul Thakur/R Ashwin, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Mohammed Siraj

Pitch and conditions: It’s South Africa’s fortress

The pitch at SuperSport Park is one of the fastest in South Africa, and the rain and overcast conditions could make it even spicier. Though Centurion has been South Africa’s fortress, with 22 wins in 28 Tests, India beat them by 113 runs here on their last tour.

Stats and trivia: Kohli stands tall

  • Ashwin is 11 wickets away from becoming the ninth bowler to take 500 Test wickets.
  • Virat Kohli (51.35) is the only India batter (minimum five innings) to average more than 50 in Tests in South Africa. Sachin Tendulkar is second on the list with 46.44.
  • Bavuma needs three more runs to complete 3000 in Test cricket.
  • Shubman Gill is 34 short of 1000 Test runs.
  • Quotes

    “Playing against India comes with a lot more eyes and a lot more scrutiny in terms of everything we do. So it is accepting that. And the other, the more obvious one, is the skill factor on the field. For me as a batter, the bowlers are going to put you under pressure and their batting attack as well; they’ve got renowned Test players and guys who have performed in all conditions. They are a determined team as well, who want to be able to say they have won a Test series here in South Africa. So with [India having] that extra bit of drive and motivation, we will really need to be at our best.
    Temba Bavuma on the challenges of playing India

    Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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