Who needs 450 overs or full five days of play to get a decisive result in a Test match? Both hosts South Africa and Rohit Sharma‘s India would like to think that way as rain is expected to either halt or wash out multiple sessions in the first match of the two-Test ‘Friendship Series’ at SuperSport Park in Centurion from Tuesday.
Signs of desperation to win will be evident in both camps. For India, the African country remains the only place where they have not won a Test series. Even Sri Lanka, who have never ever won a Test match in India, have won a series in the Rainbow nation – 2-0 in 2019. South Africa won’t be playing much Test cricket in this cycle and hence winning this series could prove vital for their chances to make it to the World Test Championship match at Lord’s in 2025.
If the hosts are unsure about the availability of pacers Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, India will have to choose between pacers Prasidh Krishna and Mukesh Kumar. The overcast conditions have almost ensured that India will go with four pacers, including Shardul Thakur, and prefer left-armer Ravindra Jadeja over offie R Ashwin as lone spinner.
KL Rahul‘s eagerness to add value to the team by extending his wicket-keeping role to Tests means S Bharat will miss out. India can play an additional pure batsman in Shreyas Iyer and also play five bowlers due to Rahul’s role.
With opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill and Iyer not having experience of playing Test match in South Africa, things may turn a little tricky for India against Rabada, Ndigi, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, Gerald Coetzee and Marco Jansen.
“The guys who are here for the first time are quite excited and looking forward to the challenge,” said Rohit. “Bowlers dominate here a lot due to bounce and lateral movement that the seamers get. As the match goes on, the cracks open up and the bounce starts to vary. I cannot pinpoint a particular day which is nice to bat. Every day has its own challenge. It becomes tougher and tougher to bat as the game progresses.
“The key is to apply yourself and understand shots which will give you runs. The ball does something here all the time, so you are never set here. Baatchit hui hai…abhi toh khelna hai (seniors have shared their experience with juniors, now we have to play). We have to bat to our strength and cannot opt to just survive.”
It is a given that India will miss the services of the injured Mohammed Shami. But the changing team dynamics means Rahul will get demoted to the middle-order. His 123 at the top was the cornerstone of India’s Test win in Centurion two years ago, when Shami had taken eight wickets. ‘Opener’ Rahul had also scored an invaluable 129 at Lord’s after losing the toss the same year.
South Africa have played only seven Tests at home since the Boxing Day Test two years ago. The last drawn Test in SA in 2016 was against New Zealand, when less than 100 overs were possible. Since then all 32 Tests have been decisive in SA with the hosts winning 75% of them.
Rohit said, “These are two important Tests to see where we stand as a team. Never won a series here so that’s a big opportunity in itself that gives us excitement, courage and encouragement to do our best.”
The skipper, whose calm avatar will be required at the top, said every bowler will have a massive role to play in this series including the spinners. Captain Temba Bavuma, inform batter Tony de Zorzi and openers Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram are expected to pose India some headache.