Billed as the clash between two of the heavyweights of the game - India vs South Africa is a series that every cricket fanatic is eagerly waiting for in 2018. The battle between the top two Test playing nations promises to provide high quality cricket and evenly fought contests which may go down to the wire. (LIVE CRICKET SCORE ONLINE).
In the last couple of years, the Indian team has been on a roll particularly in the longer format. Kohli's men have managed to beat every team they have faced since the start of 2015, registering nine Test series wins on the trot. With such dominance, the Indian team has gained the numero uno status in Test cricket. Whereas, South Africa too have been in good form in the traditional format, winning six out of their last seven series.
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As India get ready to start their away sojourn with a tough tour of South Africa, we look at 5 India players to watch out for in the upcoming three-Test series.
Known to lead by example, India skipper Virat Kohli is the easiest pick in this list among all five candidates. The 29-year-old is a monster when it comes to scoring big runs in international cricket that too with supreme ease. As a leader, he is an inspiration for his teammates who look up to him when the chips are down. Kohli had a couple of fantastic years in 2016 and 2017 where he churned out runs at will and converted hundreds to double-hundreds. He has scored over 1000 Test runs in consecutive years and has guided the team to pinnacle by taking some tough calls. If India want to script history this time, Kohli's form will undoubtedly play a big role for the visitors.
Arguably, the best number three batsman in the world as far as the stats are concerned, Cheteshwar Pujara is the ideal man for India at the top of the order. In 2017, the Saurashtra batsman has scored 1140 runs in 11 Tests at an impressive average of 67.06. Also, Pujara has fair knowledge about South African conditions where he has toured twice during 2010/11 and 2013 tour.
Pujara was the highest run-scorer of the series in 2013 with 280 runs in 4 innings (average of 70.00). Lately, Pujara has faced a lot of criticism over his poor overseas record which he will be looking to improve. With the bat, his performances at No. 3 would be important for India and thus, he is one of the players to watch out for in the series.
Ajinkya Rahane is the only Indian batsman who has had an ordinary outing in 2017 especially in Test cricket. The Indian vice-captain started 2017 with a fluent 82 against Bangladesh but has failed to repeat his performances since then. In 2017, the 29-year-old Mumbai batsman scored only 554 in 18 innings. He scored a hundred in Sri Lanka (in the second Test), but his form has remained patchy.
Despite his not so impressive record, all eyes will be on Rahane on the upcoming South Africa tour as he is a proven campaigner when it comes to scoring outside the sub-continent. Rahane relishes the challenges of playing on pacy and bouncy tracks and he has been India's go-to man in such conditions. Interestingly, he is one of the few players who has a better average playing away from home. His averages 33.63 at home and 53.44 on the foreign soil.
Irrespective of the format of the game, the openers hold utmost importance in every batting unit as they have the responsibility to provide the team a good platform. On challenging South African tracks, the onus once again lies on the Indian openers to see through the new red cherry and provide the team a healthy start. Murali Vijay has been one of the most consistent players when it comes to playing on foreign soil. He has scored 1548 runs at an average of 36.85 in the overseas conditions and has played crucial knocks in the process.
In the recent series against Sri Lanka, the stylish right-hander once again showed glimpses of his fluent form and scored two back-to-back hundreds in Nagpur and Delhi. Considering Vijay's form and experience on foreign soil, he should be the automatic choice for the opening slot, ahead of Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul. While the records of Vijay are impressive in Australia and England, but his average drops down below 30 in South Africa, with an aggregate of 176 runs in three Tests. He would certainly want to change that record this time around.
Touted as the leader of the Indian bowling attack, Ravichandran Ashwin is world's best spinner at the moment. He is seen as a talisman for India especially in red-ball cricket where his stats and numbers are simply unmatched. The kind of impact that he has made, especially in the recent years, has made him indispensable in the Test team.
After bagging the prestigious 'ICC Cricketer of the Year Award' and 'ICC Test bowler of the Year Award' in 2016, Ashwin has rewritten the history books every time he stepped on to the field. He became the fastest to pick 250 as well as 300 wickets, beating Australia pace legend Dennis Lillee's records on both occasions. In the upcoming series vs South Africa, it would be expected from Ashwin to rise to the bigger challenge and prove his worth on surfaces that traditionally are not known to assist spinners.