After a thoroughly dominating and impressive 2017 where Team India ruled the roost in all three formats of the game, the men in blue will kick-off the new year with a new challenge in their hands. Looking to repeat the success of last year, Virat Kohli and Co. is currently on a tour to South Africa where they will play three Tests, six ODIs and three T20Is. The first Test between the two countries will be played at the picturesque venue of Cape Town from January 5.
Many cricket experts and critics see this series as a battle between the famed Indian batting unit and the fiery Proteas bowling attack. Big names of Indian cricket - Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, skipper Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane are likely to be tested on the fast and bouncy tracks in South Africa.
In this piece, we will discuss some of the exciting key battles that we can look forward to during the three-match Test series as both the nations lock horns against each other.
Virat Kohli vs Dale Steyn
Perhaps, this is the battle every cricket lover around the world would be eager to watch on the pristine 22-yard strip. It's the battle between one of the world's best batsmen and a veteran stalwart, both having proved their credentials at the international stage. On one side, Kohli is in the form of his life and ended the year 2017 as the highest run-getter (2818 runs) combined in all three formats of the game.
Whereas, Proteas quick Dale Steyn is all set to make his return to the cricket field after a gap of more than a year. The legendary pacer is also on the verge of becoming the leading wicket-taker in South Africa's illustrious history. He needs just five more wickets to overtake Shaun Pollock's all-time record tally of 421 scalps in Test cricket.
Cheteshwar Pujara vs Kagiso Rabada
One of the most classical and compact batsmen in world cricket, Cheteshwar Pujara is a vital cog in Indian team's batting unit when it comes to the longer format of the game. Despite being compared to the legendary Rahul Dravid for his zeal and hunger to score mammoth hundreds in Test cricket, Pujara has made a name for himself in whites. The team will once again be heavily relying on him to post big scores at the top of the order. Pujara has a good record on the Proteas soil as well as his brilliant century in the first Test during India's last tour has been regarded as one of his best knocks at overseas.
In the absence of bowling spearhead Dale Steyn, young fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has emerged as the most exciting and a genuine prospect for the Proteas, particularly in the Test cricket. He stepped up when it mattered the most and filled the void with aplomb. Rabada ended 2017 as South Africa's leading wicket-taker with 57 wickets. He is currently the second-ranked bowler in the longer format.
AB de Villiers vs Ravichandran Ashwin
It can also be called as the ‘clash of the Titans', one of the modern-day greats in batting taking on world's number one spinner in cricket's most challenging format. The complete batsman in game's history, De Villiers has made a successful comeback to Test cricket after taking a long break from the longest format following an injury. In the first-ever four-day Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe, the 33-year old scored a crucial half-century. In the series against India, de Villiers form will play a huge role in the outcome of the three-match rubber.
Apart from India's much-vaunted pace battery, the role of Ravichandran Ashwin will be an important one if the visitors want to change the history this time in the Rainbow nation. Recently, in his 54th Test, Ashwin became the quickest bowler to take 300 wickets in the history of the game. He took over from Dennis Lillee (56 Tests) as the new record holder. Ashwin also beat Muttiah Muralitharan, who had been the fastest spinner to 300 wickets, by as many as four Tests. If India wants to win the series - all eyes will be on Ashwin's tally which is likely to play the deciding factor in the end.