Testing time: On India vs South Africa Tests

As India plays South Africa, it has the chance to strengthen its Test position

India began its campaign in the ICC World Test Championship on a rousing note a few weeks ago, overwhelming the West Indies 2-0 in the Caribbean. The result put India on top of the nascent Championship table with 120 points, and made Virat Kohli the country's most successful Test captain with 28 wins. It may be argued that the West Indies was not the hardest of opponents, but Kohli’s men were hugely impressive. Hanuma Vihari and Ajinkya Rahane scored tough runs while Jasprit Bumrah proved virtually unplayable. Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma were relentlessly good too as Kohli rejoiced in the might of his pace battery. His team now has a chance to strengthen its position in the World Test Championship when the three-match series against South Africa begins in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. India has established a near-impregnable home record, having lost only one of its last 29 Tests on home soil, a record stretching back some six-and-a-half years. Key to that dominance has been the mastery India’s spin bowlers have exerted over touring sides, and the home team’s superior batting, helmed by Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.

At first glance, this South Africa team in transition appears unlikely to offer a stern challenge. When the side was here last for a Test series, in 2015, it was tormented by spin. No South African batsman barring A.B. de Villiers managed more than 150 runs over the four Tests. Indeed only two others even got to triple figures for the series. Faf du Plessis, who is now captain, averaged less than nine. Yet, it would be unwise to consider the current contest a foregone conclusion. Aiden Markram has been in form in the preparatory matches, and in Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Vernon Philander, the visitor has a potent pace attack, even if the conditions are unlikely to favour the three. And India can be vulnerable. There is an over-reliance on Kohli and Pujara. Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari have played only 10 Tests between them. Rishabh Pant, who was India’s wicket-keeper in the West Indies, is still developing as a player. The BCCI selectors have made a bold decision to choose Rohit Sharma as opener. A colossus in One-Day cricket, the Mumbai batsman has failed to convince in the longer format. He will now hope to seize this chance. India will also be without the services of Bumrah, who has suffered a stress fracture in the back. It is not a gap easily filled. This series is also an opportunity for R. Ashwin, in and out of the side, to remind the world of his worth. A rigorous examination awaits South Africa.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 10:53:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/testing-time-on-india-vs-south-africa-tests/article29559423.ece

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