Venue: SuperSport Park, Centurion
Date: Sunday, December 26 – Thursday, December 30
South Africa – 2/20
India – 0.50
The much anticipated three match Test series between rivals South African and India gets underway at SupeprSport Park in Centurion on Boxing Day.
The match will be played in front of empty stands after Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) agreed for no fans despite the fact that current lockdown restrictions allow for 2 000 fans in stadiums.
South Africa will be without key fast bowler Anrich Nortje, who has been ruled out with a hip injury, and he is likely to be replaced by returning Duanne Olivier in the starting line-up to join Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.
On the side of the visitors, they arrived in the country without vital top order batsman Rohit Sharma, who showed his class by scoring heavily in England a few months ago, due a hamstring injury he suffered at training.
Proteas suffered a major blow when it was announced last week that key fast bowler Anrich Nortje has been ruled out due to a persistent hip injury but team management has said that he will not be replaced.
Nortje’s absence has opened the door Duanne Olivier to make his comeback as he is available again after he returned from the Kolpak system which ended with Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are almost certainties to start and If Olivier is chosen ahead of Marco Jansen, Beuran Hendricks, Glenton Stuurman, Sisanda Magala, he will have bid shows to fill as Nortje is South Africa’s leading bowler in Tests this year with 25 wickets.
With pace and bounce expected to be the order of the day in Centurion, the South African think tank will go with Keshav Maharaj, who will largely play the containing role, as the only spinner.
The other key area for this series is the batting department, which at times recently has flattered to deceive with constant collapses, coach Mark Boucher is once again going to rely on the tried and tested.
Without the possible inclusion of Keegan Petersen at number three, captain Dean Elgar is expected to open the batting with Aiden Markram, with Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, and Wiaan Mulder completing the top seven.
While South Africa looks to have a much settled team, Indian captain Virat Kohli and coach Rahul Dravid have a few selection posers for this series and high on their agenda will be whether they go with four or four bowlers.
Since the Boxing Day Test last year, India have played 15 Tests and in all their starting elevens since then, they have included five bowlers with either Ravindra Jadeja or Washington Sundar slotting in as a batting all-rounder in 13 of them.
Jadeja and Sundar are not part of this South African tour and this means that the think tank of Dravid and Kohli will have to be creative when selecting the team because finding a five-bowler combination is going to be tricky.
Elsewhere, India will have five certain starters in the form of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Jasprit Bumrah and near-certainties in struggling Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami.
To be able to build on their recent success over New Zealand, India will need their batsmen to step up in the absence of key man Rohit Sharma who has been ruled out because of a recurring hamstring issue.
South Africa and India have met each 39 times in Test history and nothing much separates them as the hosts have won 15 Tests and India have managed to win 14 with the other ten encounters having ended in draws.
In South Africa, both teams have clashed 20 times with the Proteas winning ten games and losing three, seven Tests ending in draws and the visitors have contested in two matches at Centurion and lost both.