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India to take on South Africa in First Test of Freedom Trophy series in Centurion, South Africa

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In Men’s Cricket, India will take on South Africa in the First Test of two match series of Freedom Trophy 2023-24 tomorrow at SuperSport Park in Centurion, South Africa. The match is scheduled to begin at 1.30 PM Indian Standard Time.
 
The second test will be played from 3rd of next month at Cape Town, Newlands.

India have never won a men’s Test series in South Africa. That England, Australia and Sri Lanka are the only visiting teams who have been victorious here won’t make the Indians feel any better about this failure, especially in the age of their perceived exceptionalism.

However inconvenient that may be for the exceptionalists to countenance, it is the truth. India have played eight rubbers in South Africa and lost seven of them. The closest they’ve come to an exception was in December 2010 and January 2011, when they levelled matters at Kingsmead after South Africa had won in Centurion. A tense draw followed at Newlands.

Of the 23 Tests India have played in South Africa they’ve won a paltry four. Only in Australia, England and Pakistan do they have lower winning percentages than their 17.39 in this country. The good news, for the exceptionalists as well as for India’s genuine and fair-minded supporters, is that the coming 13 days represent a fine opportunity to put a kink in the arc of the narrative.

India have had two-Test series in South Africa before: in November 2001 and December 2013. But their attack in those rubbers did not shimmer with the bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj have become. Mohammed Shami took six wickets at 43.83 in the 2013 series. Considering Shami’s development since then, it’s a shame an ankle injury has precluded him from measuring that progress in this rubber.

India’s batting doesn’t seem as threatening as their bowling. Their likely top six average from Virat Kohli’s 49.29 to Shubman Gill’s 32.20. But the picture changes dramatically seen through a South Africa lens. Yashasvi Jaiswal, Gill and Shreyas Iyer have yet to play a Test here. Rohit Sharma’s career average of 46.54 crashes 31.17 points to 15.37 in South Africa. KL Rahul’s droops from 33.44 to 25.60. Only Kohli is a better batter in this country than overall – his South Africa average is 51.35, or third on his list after India and Australia.

The South Africans will feel the weight of their own history. They are not as strong as they have been in other home series against India, particularly in a batting unit in which Dean Elgar’s average of 37.28 is one of only three of more than 30. Half of India’s probable top six average more than 40.

How much Elgar’s mind will be focused – or not – by playing his last Test series promises to be key. Also vital, especially on a pitch as pacy as Centurion’s, is the fitness of Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, who are trying to overcome heel and ankle issues. Rabada, whose 60 caps make him South Africa’s most experienced player after Elgar, is particularly important to the cause.

Temba Bavuma and Rohit Sharma will play their first match since their teams’ traumatic exit from the World Cup in India last month. Winning this series won’t erase that disappointment for these proud captains. Likely nothing will. But losing would come as another crushing blow. Neither of them deserves that pain.

Squads:

South Africa Squad: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Tony de Zorzi, Temba Bavuma(c), David Bedingham, Kyle Verreynne(w), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Gerald Coetzee, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Keegan Petersen, Wiaan Mulder, Nandre Burger, Tristan Stubbs

India Squad: Rohit Sharma(c), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul(w), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna, Ravichandran Ashwin, Srikar Bharat, Abhimanyu Easwaran, Mukesh Kumar.

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