Two years after Virat Kohli shouted angrily into a stump microphone in what proved to be his final Test as captain, India will seek once again to breach the ‘final frontier’ for their Test team when they begin a two-match series at SuperSport Park on Tuesday.
South Africa is the only regular Test-playing country where India have yet to win a series.
“There is a lot of pride to be able to keep that record intact,” said South African captain Temba Bavuma on Sunday.
“There will be extra drive and motivation (for India), so we will need to be at our best.”
Kohli led a strong Indian team in 2021/22, with high expectations after successful tours of Australia and England.
India won the first Test at Centurion but South Africa, inspired by then-captain Dean Elgar, succeeded in two hard-fought fourth innings chases in the remaining matches to clinch the series.
Kohli’s frustration boiled over when a television review at a crucial moment in the decisive match went in favour of Elgar.
He resigned as Test captain the day after the match.
Both Kohli and Elgar remain as key batsmen for their teams, although not as captains.
Elgar, 36, who will retire from international cricket after the second Test in Cape Town, was axed as captain after a shake-up of the Test side earlier this year which included the appointment of Shukri Conrad as coach.
Conrad confirmed Elgar’s decision to retire was based on a conversation between the pair but praised the opening batsman’s “resilience, dog fight, pride in performance and that ability to never back down.”
They are qualities which will be much needed against India with South Africa lacking experience and quality in their top order batting.
India, too, have question marks over their batting, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane no longer in their plans.
Both showed on previous tours an ability to withstand South Africa’s fast bowlers on the country’s traditionally lively pitches.
South Africa will again be relying on pace to unsettle the Indian batsmen.
“India have a quality batting line-up but we’ve got quality bowlers,” said Conrad.
Young guns Marco Jansen and Gerald Coetzee played in four-day domestic matches last week but the more experienced Kagiso Rabada (sore heel) and Lungi Ngidi (ankle sprain) both missed the opportunity to get some red-ball cricket.
Conrad, though, expected both to be fit for the Test.
“They’ll be fresh, they’ll be firing,” he said.
India will be without fast bowler Mohammed Shami because of injury but Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj will still spearhead a potent attack.
The matches will be the first for South Africa in the 2023-25 World Test Championship cycle.
It’s India’s second series in the championship after they won one match and drew one against the West Indies in July.
Temba Bavuma (capt), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Tony de Zorzi, Keegan Petersen, David Bedingham, Tristan Stubbs, Kyle Verreynne (wkt), Marco Jansen, Wiaan Mulder, Gerald Coetzee, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Nandre Burger.
Rohit Sharma (capt), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wkt), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Mukesh Kumar, Prasidh Krishna, KS Bharat (wkt), Abhimanyu Easwaran.
Umpires: Paul Reiffel (AUS), Langton Rusere (ZIM).
TV umpire: Ahsan Raza (PAK)
Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG).
December 26-30, first Test, Centurion
January 3-7, second Test, Cape Town
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