South Africa vs India 2018: How India should line up for the first Test
The Indian Test squad was announced for the South Africa series last week and it looks really solid. A 17-member squad with Jasprit Bumrah as 2nd back up (1st back up is Umesh according to me) will take the flight to South Africa. The remaining 15 are as solid an Indian team one could have asked for.
Knowing the ground is important in choosing a side and India begin their campaign in Newlands, Cape Town. Their record there is two draws and two losses from the four matches that they have played there. The closest they came to winning there was in 2011 when Jacques Kallis stood between them and a series victory, scoring centuries in both the innings. His second innings partnership with Mark Boucher thwarted Indian fans' hopes of winning the series.
Newlands is one of the few grounds in South Africa that assists spin bowlers, but India can rest assured that they will not get a pitch that aids spinners as Faf Du Plessis clearly stated in his interviews so far that he is looking for pitches with pace and bounce.
Picking 11 from the 15 mentioned above is going to be some task for Kohli and the team management. The opening partnership is one of the keys, especially outside the subcontinent. India have in Murali Vijay an opener who can give solidity at the top and Dhawan/Rahul will provide the flair if they can withstand the early onslaught from the South African pacers.. At 1 drop, India have the resilient Cheteshwar Pujara who is an absolute grinder, the perfect number 3 in case an early wicket falls.
The middle order is filled with flamboyance with the captain, Kohli, walking out at four, Rahane at five and Rohit at six. I say Rohit at six because of the fact that Rahane has just scored 32 runs in the last four Tests after his century in Colombo. Rahane can't be dropped as he has been the best batsman outside Asia for India. However, considering his recent form, Kohli might feel the need to include an additional batsman in case Rahane fails again. Hardik Pandya will be very much in the equation, but I feel he will be given a go only in the 2nd or 3rd Test.
The lower middle-order comprises Ravichandran Ashwin at 7, Wriddhiman Saha at 8 followed by the tail featuring India's premier pace bowlers in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. Ravindra Jadeja might also get a go with the home side's line up filled with right-handers: only Dean Elgar, Quinton de Kock and Morne Morkel are southpaws.
Bhuvneshwar has been reliable across formats and has been a revelation in whites with that extra yard of pace he has added to his arsenal. Shami has been struggling to play consecutive games following his knee surgery but whenever he bowls he looks like picking a wicket and Ishant, who has always struggled with consistency, lately seems to have corrected his wrist position, aiding in his accuracy.
My Team: Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma.