The first Test at the Centurion begins on Boxing Day, as one of the best touring sides in the world in Team India is looking to conquer the shores of South Africa for the first time in Test cricket. There’s genuine excitement amongst the fans as it seems like India’s best chance of winning a series there. With it being only a three match Test series, it is imperative that the team gets its selection calls spot on ahead of the first Test at the Centurion.
The biggest dilemma for the captain and the coach would be to assess the conditions on offer and figure out what would be the ideal bowling combination. Here are three options they can consider ahead of the first Test at the Centurion.
FOUR FAST BOWLERS AND ONE SPINNER
The last match India played at the Centurion, their off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin picked up four wickets in the first innings of the game. Ashwin enjoyed his time on what was the easiest track to bat on in the previous tour. It seems like a no-brainer that Ashwin would retain his spot in the eleven and would start the tour as the first-choice spinner in the absence of Ravindra Jadeja.
The question is that if you play Ashwin, do you still need four fast bowlers or the focus would be on deepening the batting. One way of achieving both can be to include Shardul Thakur in the XI. Thakur in his young Test career has shown his ability with the bat and has already made some handy contributions in key overseas Tests. The first three seam options now seem pretty straightforward. Considering the form of Mohammed Siraj, he has more pedigree now at the Test level and he should be the third-choice seamer on this tour after Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.
With a bowling lineup consisting of Bumrah, Shami, Siraj, Thakur and Ashwin, the team should have no issues with picking up 20 wickets in this game. The only problem with playing five bowlers is the lack of batting depth. But we’ve seen Virat Kohli be bullish in the past and played genuine five bowlers in overseas Test matches.
Possible XI: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal/Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Hanuma Vihari/Shreyas Iyer/Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shardul Thakur, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj
FIVE FAST BOWLERS
If there is a green top on offer for the first Test at the Centurion then there might be a possibility of going in with a five seamers attack. This seems pretty unlikely as previously we’ve seen the value of having a world-class spinner in your XI as the match goes late into days four and five. Still, this is a possibility as the only Test match India won back in 2018 was with five fast bowlers.
In this case, it is safe to assume that Ishant Sharma would make his way in the XI in place of Ashwin and his experience could come in handy in those conditions.
Possible XI: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal/Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Hanuma Vihari/Shreyas Iyer/Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shardul Thakur, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj
THREE FAST BOWLERS AND ONE SPINNER
This Indian batting lineup isn’t in the best of forms going into this first Test at the Centurion. So there is a case to be made to have an added batter in the XI for at least the first Test given that the team isn’t playing any practice matches before the match. In this case, having a proper middle-order batter instead of someone like Shardul Thakur could be the way to go forward with. If the management is deeply concerned about the lack of form of the batters then maybe Shardul could retain his spot given his batting prowess and a proper bowler could make way for the extra batter. Here’s how this XI could look like.
Possible XI: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal/Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari/Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shardul Thakur/Mohammed Siraj, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah
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