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South Africa v India 2023/24

Who will be the Test keeper? Who opens in T20Is? Seven selection questions for India against South Africa

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

India’s T20I, ODI and Test squads against South Africa were named on Thursday (November 30), but there is still plenty of debate over the make-ups of the final XI in each format.

India will play three T20Is, three ODIs and two Tests against the Proteas from December 10, with several talking points from the teams announced.

Selection questions for the Test series

There are several takeaways from the Test squad, notably the absence of both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Though India have filled in Pujara’s spot at No.3, pushing down Shubman Gill with Yashasvi Jaiswal partnering Rohit Sharma at the top, India will be in a dilemma over Rahane’s place.


How will they fill out the middle order?

There are two candidates for the No.5 spot: Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul, who is also listed as a wicketkeeper. Both Iyer and Rahul have struggled for consistency in Tests, with Rahul, who averaged 17.12 in 2022, dropped midway through the Australia home Test series that kicked off 2023. What could work in his favour are his recent records in England and South Africa in 2021, when he showed the technical soundness needed to thrive on seaming wickets.

Iyer’s short ball woes are well-documented, with Brendon McCullum famously plotting a plan to bounce out the batter during the fifth India-England Test. On the bouncy South Africa pitches, Iyer could be at sea against the towering Proteas quicks.

Who will be the wicketkeeper?

Rahul and Ishan Kishan are the two keepers selected. Interestingly, Rahul has never kept wicket in 47 Tests while Kishan has minimal experience with the gloves in first-class cricket as well. Kishan offers a left-handed option in the middle order and might be more of a like-for-like replacement to Rishabh Pant, with his fast-scoting abilities. However, he has only played two Tests, and Rahul could edge ahead after his superior keeping skills during the World Cup, when he also showed his form.

Who replaces Mohammed Shami if he is unfit?

Question marks remain over Shami’s participation in the Test series, with thet BCCI confirming he will only play if he recovers from an undisclosed injury. In his absence, India will have to pick between Prasidh Krishna and Mukesh Kumar as the third seamer. Krishna, who is the tallest of the India quicks, at 188 cm, is the front-runner to make the XI if Shami does not recover with his extra height being an advantage on the surfaces, but Mukesh impressed against the West Indies, sending down 14 overs on the trot on a lifeless pitch in the second game to demonstrate his durability.

Ashwin or Shardul?

A regular point of discussion when India travel overseas. Ashwin is undoubtedly the better cricketer, but Shardul Thakur always finds some way to contribute, with his seam-bowling all-round skills usually swaying the debate. Ashwin’s last Test in SENA came in South Africa on the 2021/22 tour, but he managed just three wickets in three Tests. It would be a surprise if India deviated from their formula.

Selection questions for the ODI series

India’s first ODI after the World Cup final loss will see many new names in the absence of Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and several other Test stars. The squad will be led by Rahul.

Who will be the youngsters picked in the middle order?

Ruturaj Gaikwad and Sai Sudharsan are expected to be the openers with Iyer and Rahul also taking up two spots in the middle order. The other two positions will be contested between four players: While newcomers Rajat Patidar and Tilak Varma will battle it out for the No.3 spot, there will be one picked between Sanju Samson and Rinku Singh.

Patidar has a List A average of 35.66 but he shone in the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy, making three fifties in five innings at a strike rate in excess of 120. Tilak averages 54 in domestic 50-over games and is also a handy bowler.

Samson is highly skilled and has impressed in his short ODI career, with some feeling he should have made the World Cup squad over Suryakumar Yadav. But Rinku offers a left-hand option, is a natural finisher, averages 50 in List A and has also picked up seven wickets. Going forward, grooming batters who can bowl should be a focus area for Indian cricket, and Rinku fits the bill.

Who will be the spinning all-rounder?

Washington Sundar is an off-spinner while Axar Patel is a slow left-arm orthodox bowler, and who plays against South Africa could come down to match-ups. In the past, India have used their spinners judiciously, switching between them according to which batters are in the opposition XI. While R Ashwin, the off-spinner, played most games against teams that had more left-handers, Axar was brought in or kept out depending on the number of left-handers.

South Africa traditionally have more left-handers in their side, and Sundar could therefore be the preferred slower bowler.

Selection questions for the T20I series

India’s squad for the T20Is against South Africa is pretty straightforward and relatively settled. Suryakumar will lead the side as Hardik Pandya continues to recover from an ankle injury.

Who will be the top-order options?

There are four opening candidates for India: Gaikwad. Jaiswal, Gill and Kishan. Left-hander Jaiswal is likely to partner Gill at the top and should be followed by Suryakumar Yadav at No.3. The right-hander has batted at No.3 in 14 T20Is but mostly comes out one down in the IPL, where his big-hitting can be better utilised.

Iyer at No.4 can be followed by Rinku Singh and Jitesh Sharma, who will also be the wicketkeeper in the squad. However, India also have Gaikwad, who scored a hundred recently, and have tended to back Kishan despite his inconsistencies and either one could be at No.3.

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