After dominating the year 2017 in the longer format of the game, India will start their campaign against a tough and confident South Africa side as both teams prepare for first Test at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday. India and South Africa, who are ranked first and second respectively in the ICC Test team rankings, have to deal with some selection headache ahead of the first Test, where getting their team combinations right will be crucial.
Shikhar Dhawan, who had injured his ankle few days ago, has been declared fit for the first Test. So, regular openers, Murali Vijay and Shikhar are set to open the innings for India.
However, the team management needs to take a call on the team combination. India have to decide on their number six batsmen. It is either going to be Rohit Sharma or Hardik Pandya. It all depends on whether India want to strengthen the bowling attack, which could mean Pandya's inclusion as he can bowl some medium pace.
India are expected to field three pacers and one spinner. Ravichandran Ashwin could get the nod in the spin department while Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar could feature as pacers.
South Africa, on the other hand, have always been a team known for their pace battery unit, and with India being susceptible against quality fast bowlers, the home team might look to trouble India with their fast bowlers.
They have some of the best pacers in world cricket, including Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Veron Philander, Andile Phehlukwayo and Morne Morkel. However, it would not be surprising if Steyn is not picked for Newlands as the pacer is making a comeback after a lengthy spell of rest due to injury.
Considering Steyn is rested, South Africa have the option of playing all-rounder Chris Morris or Andile Phehlukwayo. Keshav Maharaj, their number one spinner, will add another variation in the attack.
However, they should not have problems in selecting their batsmen. Dean Elgar, who has looked in good run-scoring form, and Aiden Markram should open the innings. Their middle order including Hashim Amla, Faf Du Plessis, AB De Villiers and Quinton de Kock look ever so strong, capable of piling massive runs.
The pitch at Newlands have always assisted seamers with bounce and movement. Though the region have undergone severe drought, the pitch will be lively enough as there is a covering of green grass as well. Fast bowlers will extract decent bounce.
Expected Playing XIs
India: Virat Kohli (C), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (c), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock (wk), Chris Morris, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj