India look to conquer final frontier as South Africa wait at Fortress Centurion
Rabada and Ngidi are fit and should make the playing XI, while India have the Ashwin vs Thakur question to answer
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, with the weather not looking good for the first two days of the Test.
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.