In view of the T20 World Cup next year, India is trying to build a team which can perform well in limited-overs cricket but Test matches could be a platform to nurture and experiment with the team.
Limited overs phenomenon Rohit Sharma starts life as a Test opener but the embattled Rishabh Pant will not be there in the playing XI when India begins the experiment with the first match against South Africa in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday (October 2).
At Pant’s expense, Wriddhiman Saha will play his first international match in 22 months after India captain Virat Kohli confirmed that the Delhi keeper-batsman was being dropped from the first Test of India’s home season.
India will be desperately hoping that Rohit Sharma replicates his phenomenal limited-overs success as a Test opener.
Rohit’s form has been unbeatable while playing in the blue jersey, however, his build-up in the sole warm-up match was not as impressive. But it won’t be much of a surprise if the hitman scores a century in this series.
Yuvraj Singh and other former cricketers have supported the Mumbai Indians batsman saying that he should be playing in all formats and given a long run as a Test opener.
The Mumbaikar could not be accommodated in the middle-order in the two Tests in India’s tour of West Indies but now with KL Rahul dropped due to lack of runs, Rohit opening the innings could be a blessing in disguise for India by giving them a settled pairing at the top alongside Mayank Agarwal.
In the net sessions ahead of the first Test, all eyes were on Rohit who seemed very much determined to make the most of the opportunity and improve his Test record.
In 27 Tests, he has made 1585 runs at 39.62 while he is the owner of more than 10,000 runs in limited-overs cricket.
“If you ask me, Rohit Sharma should have opened in Tests from the beginning of his career. You play him one match and then drop him and say Rohit Sharma is not scoring runs in Test cricket. How can you expect someone to perform without giving him 10 Test,” asked Rohit’s former teammate Yuvraj in a recent interview.
“Now if you are making Rohit Sharma open in Tests, you should give him 6 Tests and tell him Rohit, you have got 10-12 innings, go and play your game, nobody will say anything.
“You gave so many chances to K L Rahul, so whoever is your opener, give him those 6 Test matches so that he can go and express himself,” Yuvraj added.
Another catch for the team would be on who will feature behind the wickets fro India. Despite Rishabh Pant’s inconsistency with the bat, he remained the first choice of wicketkeeper-batsman in all three formats, but with Wriddhiman Saha being fit he will take charge of the wickets.
Having scored centuries in England and Australia, Pant had done enough to cement his place in the Test side but with a fully fit Saha waiting for his opportunity, the southpaw cannot afford slip-ups anymore. Pant played both the Tests in the West Indies while Saha warmed the bench, but there is a strong possibility of the latter getting at least a game in this series.
The rest of line-up looks settled with India expected to field two pacers and as many spinners. If the wicket is turning, Hanuma Vihari can be the third-spinner.
“He can be really handy as a spinner,” said vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane ahead of the game.
Jasprit Bumrah’s absence is a big blow but trust Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami to do the job for India. Only one spinner featured in the playing XI in the West Indies, Ravindra Jadeja, and it remains to be seen who among Ravichandran Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav partners him.
India are the overwhelming favourites against South Africa who have come here with a new-look squad. Only five players, including skipper Faf du Plessis, were part of the squad that received a 3-0 hammering from India four years ago.
Not many are giving the Proteas a chance in the series, especially if the ball starts to turn. Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma were amongst the runs in the warm-up and that should give them confidence ahead of the game.
The pace trio of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi can trouble the Indians, especially with prediction of overcast skies and spells of rain on all five days of the game.
India, who are aiming to win a record-breaking 11th consecutive series at home, need to be wary of South Africa’s potent pace attack comprising Rabada, Philander and Ngidi.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Rishabh Pant, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Shubman Gill.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Senuran Muthusamy, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rudi Second.
Match starts at 9.30 AM IST.
(With inputs from agencies)