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South Africa v India

Picking India’s strongest XI in South Africa

by Sarah Waris 4 minute read

India’s squad for the upcoming Test series in South Africa has thrown up a number of selection questions – Sarah Waris has put together what she believes to be the strongest XI to play in the first Test.

With Ajinkya Rahane’s poor run of form and an injury to Ravindra Jadeja ruling him out of the series, Team India do have a number fo questions to answer when it comes to deciding their XI.

Rohit Sharma

In the course of the last year, Rohit Sharma has proven detractors wrong to emerge as India’s star opening batter. He has scored 906 runs for India in Test cricket in 2021 — 200 runs more than his next teammate on the list, Rishabh Pant. His ability to see off the new ball in England match-after-match played a pivotal role in the team’s success in the country, and he is expected to play a similar role in South Africa too.

KL Rahul

KL Rahul edges ahead of Mayank Agarwal, despite the latter’s splendid 150 at Mumbai against New Zealand. Mayank has been on a roll in home Tests but has been found wanting abroad, and with Rahul’s calm approach in England, this remains the opening partnership to go to.

Cheteshwar Pujara

The No. 3 has been grabbing headlines for his poor form this year — he averages 29.82 in 13 matches — but he was crucial in India’s series win over Australia at the start of the year, soaking up pressure and balls to blunt  a threatening pace attack. He also scored an important 91 in England, so it’s not been all doom and gloom.

Virat Kohli

The skipper is not in the best form, averaging less than 29 in 2021, but his captaincy has been on point. Be it shrewd bowling changes or inspired selections, despite criticism, Kohli remains the core member of the XI.

Hanuma Vihari

The No. 5 spot is potentially a three-way battle between Hanuma Vihari, Shreyas Iyer and Rahane. Rahane has been stripped of the vice-captaincy duties for the series after a disastrous calendar year that has seen him average only 19.57. That demotion could be an indication that Rahane is no longer a first-choice pick. Iyer impressed with a combined 170 runs on debut, including a fine 105 in his first innings in international cricket, but Vihari’s recent success in South Africa for India A tilts the odds in his favour.

Rishabh Pant

The wicketkeeper should return and take over the duties from Wriddhiman Saha despite the latter’s excellent show with the gloves in India against the spinners.

Shardul Thakur

With Ravindra Jadeja injured, playing Shardul Thakur at seven is a realistic option if India wants to play five bowlers. The all-rounder hasn’t disappointed in his limited outings with the bat thus far, scoring three fifties and all of them in overseas wins. The addition of Vihari instead of Rahane lends some stability to the batting order, and Thakur at seven seems the best bet.

R Ashwin

Jadeja’s injury also means the likely return of R Ashwin in overseas Tests after missing out on all four matches in England. The spinner has picked up 52 wickets in only eight games this year and is already counted as one of India’s greats.

Mohammed Shami

The fast bowler was one of the bright sparks in what was an otherwise dismal WTC final against New Zealand in June. He took 11 wickets in England and has been a major reason for India’s overseas successes of late.

Jasprit Bumrah

The fast bowler returns to the country of his Test debut. The bowler has gone on to become one of the greatest bowlers of the current era, with 101 Test wickets to his name in 24 games at an average of 22.79.

Mohammed Siraj

The youngster should pip Ishant Sharma for a spot in the starting XI. Siraj’s rise has been one of the most promising aspects for India this year, with his overseas success combining with excellence at home to make him a player to watch out for.

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