The upcoming Test series against India will be one tough battle for Faf du Plessis and his South African side. Test stalwarts like Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla have retired while the team's recent World Cup campaign was a shoddy affair. They lost the Test series against Sri Lanka at home and the last time they came to India, they had to endure an embarrassing series defeat.
After a decent performance in the T20I series, South Africa will now turn their focus on facing Virat Kohli's India in the three-Test series. The hosts are No 1 ranked side in Tests, boasting of world class players who perform to the best of their abilities in home conditions. The pitches will be in favour of home team so that will make the task even more daunting for South Africa.
Nevertheless, there are players in Proteas' ranks who can prove to be the difference. Winning a Test series in India is a big ask, but if they really want to pull of something significant, a few key players' performances will be crucial for them.
Here's a look at top five Proteas players to watch out for in the upcoming Test series:
India captain Virat Kohli is a big fan of Aiden Markram. The opening batsman has impressed Kohli with his skills and technique during India's last tour to South Africa. The 24-year-old made his Test debut in 2017 against Bangladesh and since then has established himself as a solid opener in the longest format of the game. In 17 Tests he has played so far, Markram averages a healthy 43.80, having hit four centuries.
Markram's biggest strength is his strong technique and off-side play. He showed it in the series against India last year where he took on the best of Indian pacers and scored runs. Playing in India, though, is obviously a much tougher task for Markram. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be relentless on spin-friendly pitches and they will apply a lot of pressure on Markram. Good thing for Markram is he has scored a couple of tons in India, which tells a lot about his calibre. In the recent match against Board President's XI, Markram made 100 in just 118 balls while he also scored a century in Mysore couple of weeks back when he was part of South Africa A squad. His battle against quality spinners will be the one to watch out for.
There's little doubt that the pace sensation from South Africa is the most important bowler for his team in the upcoming Test series. A lot has changed since he made his Test debut in India as a 19-year-old raw talent in 2015. On that tour, Rabada played three Tests and picked just two wickets and South Africa lost the four-match series 0-3. To be fair, the conditions in the series were far from being suited for pacers as spinners caused maximum damage on rank-turners. Four years on, Rabada has lived up to his potential and became one of the best in the world. In 37 Tests, he has picked 176 wickets at a phenomenal average of 21.77.
Conditions will once again play a huge role in the upcoming Test series, but now that Steyn has retired from the longest format, there's a lot of responsibility on Rabada. Steyn's record in India has been really good. In the first tour in 2007, he played three Tests and picked 15 wickets at an average of 20 and in 2009, he took 11 wickets in two Tests. The team management will be hoping that Rabada can come close to Steyn's record in India.
The left-arm orthodox spinner will lead the charge for South Africa on spin-friendly pitches. Maharaj has been part of the Proteas Test side for quite sometime now. In 25 Tests, he has picked 94 wickets at an average of 28.44. This will be his second tour to sub-continent after he travelled to Sri Lanka in 2018 where he impressed with his bowling figures, which included a 9/129 in the first innings of the second Test at SSC, Colombo.
Maharaj is not a great turner of the ball, but his consistency in long spells and ability to not give away runs will be important for South Africa. Yes, the conditions will suit him but Indian batsmen know a thing or two about playing spinners on their own pitches. If Maharaj can show a bit of patience and put Indian batsmen under pressure with his consistency then he will be rewarded with wickets. The first two Tests in the upcoming series will be played in Visakhapatnam and Pune where the pitches will assist spinners so Maharaj needs to be at his best and exploit the conditions to make greater impact.
Apart from Maharaj, Proteas will also have the services of off-spinner Dane Piedt. He first came into limelight in the 2015 South Africa tour to India where he played one Test at Delhi and picked four wickets in a innings. Since then, he didn't get much opportunities with the national squad having played only seven Tests over the course of four years. But his fortunes changed in the last domestic season with Cape Cobras where he grabbed 54 wickets in 10 matches – the highest in the competition – which also included a best bowling figures of 8/130 in a match against Warriors.
Piedt has been playing first-class cricket for more than nine years now. He has taken 398 wickets in 110 first-class matches so there's some experience. He is also coming into the series with form and confidence but he would know that in order to perform in India against a bunch of quality batsmen would require some effort. The 29-year-old would look to win most of the challenges against the much-fancied Indian batsmen and become a contender for team's first choice spinner in future.
Temba Bavuma has been playing Test cricket since 2014 but he is yet to achieve his full potential. In 36 Tests, he has scored only one century, a highest of 102 against England three years back. His batting average is 33 in Tests, which should've been on the higher side considering his talent and the fact he plays as a specialised batsmen. Bavuma is a good option to have in the middle-order because his experience is crucial if top-order crumbles quickly, but against India, he really needs to step up and do more than what is necessary for his team. More than a mere half-century, Bavuma should really strive to make a big score.
Against Board President's XI, Bavuma played a good knock of 87 off 127 balls and remained unbeaten. Even in T20Is, he showed responsibility, which is good sign going into the Test series. Indian bowlers will prove a challenge but this is time for Bavuma to finally prove his worth and make a name for himself. There's no reason why he can't do it.
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