India may have produced Test’s finest cricketers all resplendent in their whites who have taken and beaten the best. But the safari to the Rainbow Nation has proved a mighty barrier and they have always returned home with their whites all soiled. South Africa has proved to be the final frontier and after eight tours to this country, India is hunting for its first trophy.
Rohit Sharma, in his first foray into the African nation as captain, has made it clear he is “desperate” to return home by finally breaching South Africa’s defence. And Proteas captain Temba Bavuma said, “there is a lot of pride attached” to his team’s record. “I know they are a determined team that wants to be able to say that they have won a Test series here in South Africa. With that extra drive and motivation, it is a team against whom we will have to be at our best,” he added.
Bavuma has a proud record to defend as in the eight series they have played, the Proteas have finished on top in seven and a 1-1 draw in 2010-11 was the best India has managed in 31 years of touring the country. On that occasion, India won the first Test but lost the next two. Some of the world-class players in India’s lineup in the 1990s and 2000s included Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, current coach Rahul Dravid, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli who captained the last two tours.
This time it’s a much shorter contest with only two matches – in Centurion and Cape Town. Victory at Centurion will likely decide the outcome where the trophy will land.
Apart from wanting to retain its perfect unbeaten record at home, the South Africans are also determined to give former captain Dean Elgar a fitting farewell from the Test arena after 84 Tests. The opening batsman scored 5,146 runs and that included 13 centuries and a career-best 199 against Bangladesh in 2017.
India, of course, will be looking forward to ending this dismal 2023 on a winning note following that heart-breaking defeat to Australia in the World Cup final just a few weeks ago.
Prior to this series, it was evident that the contest would be between India’s batting lineup against the firepower of the Proteas. And that is exactly what happened after the first day of play where fast bowler Kagiso Rabada ripped through the Indian batting with five wickets on a day that was interrupted by rain. Rabada finished the first day with an excellent analysis of five for 44 runs with debutant Nandre Burger (two for 50) and Marco Jansen (one for 52) putting the clamps on India as it struggled to 208 for eight thanks to a fighting unbeaten 70 by K.L. Rahul. Other top-notch batsmen Kohli, Sharma and Shreyas Iyer fell to Rabada’s pace. When the home team goes in to bat it will face India’s fiery Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shiraj and debutant Prasidh Krishna. The next four days should be exciting if the rain stays away.
AUSSIES IN COMMAND
Rain played havoc on the first day of the second Test between Australia and Pakistan in Melbourne. In front of a festive crowd of 62,167 fans the home team closed on 187 for three with Marnus Labuschagne on 44 not out and Travis Head on nine. Australia will be looking to win this Test to take a 2-0 lead with one Test to go.
The home team thrashed the visitors by 360 runs in Perth two weeks ago that saw spinner Nathan Lyon take his 500th Test wicket. Aussie openers David Warner, playing in his penultimate Test prior to calling it a day, made 38 and Usman Khawaja hit 42 as the two shared a 90-run stand.
ENGLAND GETS POLLARD
England’s white-ball tour of the West Indies was another disappointment following its early exit from the World Cup. It was beaten 3-2 in the Twenty20 internationals and 2-1 in the one-day internationals.
But England did leave the Caribbean on a high note as it signed former West Indies captain Kieron Pollard to be an assistant coach at the 2024 Twenty World Cup. As defending champions England believes the superb 36-year-old former all-rounder will be able to provide the squad with knowledge of Caribbean conditions. Two English players who sealed their spots during this tour for next year’s World Cup to be played in the West Indies and the U.S. were a bulked-up opening batsman Phil Salt and spinner Adil Rashid. Rashid, of course, has been England’s top spinner for the last few years and reaching 100 wickets in 100 matches came as no surprise.
Salt hit back-to-back centuries and has credited bulking up in the gym and trying to take in 3,500 calories a day.
“Getting through [that amount of] calories a day has been a bit of a job,’’ he said. “My missus has been raging because the shopping bill has gone through the roof.”
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