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Who will make the cut for South Africa Tests?

By HARISH KOTIAN
December 07, 2021 17:06 IST
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Harish Kotian looks at the challenges confronting India's cricket selectors as they pick the team for the South African tour.

IMAGE: Time is running out for Ajinkya Rahane who faces a make or break tour of South Africa if he is selected despite a poor run of form. Photograph: BCCI
 

The Test careers of senior pros Ajinkya Rahane and Ishant Sharma are on the line when the selectors pick the Indian Test squad for the coming tour of South Africa.

A number of key players were rested during the two Test series against New Zealand and their replacements -- Mayank Agarwal, Shreyas Iyer, Axar Patel and Jayant Yadav -- made most of the opportunities.

India are likely to travel with a 22-member squad, including 17 players plus five reserves, for South Africa considering the COVID-19 situation in that country, so a few new players could make the cut.

Agarwal hit a century and fifty in Mumbai to seal his place for South Africa even though he is unlikely to start in the playing XI in South Africa, with Rohit Sharma and K L Rahul the first two choices.

Shubman Gill, who struggled against the short balls in the Mumbai Test, might make it as the reserve opener to cover up in case of any injuries.

IMAGE: Opener Mayank Agarwal sealed his place for South Africa tour with a century and a fifty in the Mumbai Test against New Zealand. Photograph: BCCI

Cheteshwar Pujara is likely to retain his place at No 3 despite a lean run with the bat with India likely to stick with experience for a difficult tour like South Africa.

Ajinkya Rahane may not be so lucky as he coul find himself out of the reckoning for a place in the playing XI. This could be the make or break tour as far as Rahane is concerned, and despite being picked for the Test series, starting on December 26, he could struggle to break into the playing XI after Shreyas Iyer's good showing against the Kiwis.

Hanuma Vihari has also staked his claim for a place in the middle order with two half-centuries for India 'A' against South Africa 'A'. Many Indian fans still remember his gutsy showing with the bat during the tour of Australia, when he batted through pain on the final day to take India to draw in the Sydney Test earlier this year.

Rahane has scored just 411 in 12 Tests played this year at an average of 19.57, may get one last chance to salvage his career, while Suryakumar Yadav could travel as the reserve middle order batter.

The selectors will consider Rahane's good record in South Africa where he averages 53 for a tally of 266 runs in three Tests. He played a vital knock of 48 in the third Test in Johannesburg during India's last tour in 2018, while hitting two fifties in a single Test during the 2013 tour.

IMAGE: Veteran Ishant Sharma could be left out of the Test series in South Africa. Photograph: BCCI

Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the two frontline spinners for India, but Axar Patel may spend time on the bench despite his good showing against New Zealand. However, Jayant Yadav might not make it to the 22-member squad with selectors expected to pick more pace bowlers.

Rishabh Pant will take over the gloves as he is the preferred wicket-keeper for overseas tours, with the experienced Wriddhiman Saha, who was superb with the gloves against New Zealand, making it as the second 'keeper.

The selectors will be spoilt for choices when it comes to the pace department. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, who were rested for the New Zealand Tests, will come back into the team, while Mohammed Siraj sealed his spot with a lethal spell in the Mumbai Test and could play as the third fast bowler in South Africa.

Medium pace all-rounder Shardul Thakur is likely to get the nod with his ability to make an impact with the ball in pacer-friendly conditions, while he is also capable with the bat lower down the order.

Hardik Pandya could once again be sidelined while Bhuvneshwar Kumar looks unlikely to make it to the Test team.

Umesh Yadav may find his place in the reserves along with the young Prasidh Krishna, but Ishant Sharma, who went wicketless in Kanpur, could be left out.

Probable squad for South Africa Tests: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, K L Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, Prasidh Krishna.

Reserves: Axar Patel, Avesh Khan, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav, Umesh Yadav.

What would your 22-member team to South Africa be? Please post your choices in the message board below.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com

India Tour of South Africa 2021-22