Ind vs SA Tests: Rohit Sharma’s men face stern test of character

We have never won a series here (in South Africa) and it’ll be a big thing if we do it, says the captain

Rohit Sharma at the pre-series media conference (photo: BCCI)
Rohit Sharma at the pre-series media conference (photo: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

There is always an extra buzz about a Boxing Day Test starting anywhere in the world — more like a piece of tradition in a sport fast losing out to market forces. For the Indian team, it’s more like aspiring to tame an unconquered frontier as they take on South Africa in the challenging conditions of Centurion's Supersport Park.

History tells you that the hosts have won seven of the eight Test series played there since the first one in 1992, with one series being drawn in 2010-11. India had raised hopes of joining the winning bandwagon during their last visit in 2021, but as their recent World Cup heartbreak has shown, such close affairs are that much harder to take if the job is eventually left incomplete. 

An obvious question was directed at skipper Rohit Sharma, who along with big guns Virat Kohli and pace star Jasprit Bumrah, have returned to the squad more than a month after their shattering defeat to Australia in the cup final at Ahmedabad.

"We have never won a series here and it’ll be a big thing if we do it here. I don’t know whether it’ll be able to take away the pain of the World Cup defeat. If we are able to achieve it, then it’ll be a good thing," Rohit said at the pre-match media conference. 

While there can be no comparison between the two, it’s a no brainer that the Big Two of Indian batting will be cherishing triumphs in more meaningful contests in the remaining years of their career — and an away series on the bouncy tracks of South Africa will certainly be one on their bucket list.

In a recent promotion for this mini series, both Kohli — a devout admirer of Test cricket — and white-ball giant Rohit reaffirmed their faith in the longer format being the real test of character. 

The Indian team has travelled well in recent years to win back-to-back series in Australia and draw their last one 2-2 against England, but have failed in consecutive World Test Championship finals at neutral England venues, which has put a question mark on their temperament when it comes to winning the big ones.

While the Indian fan will feel that this could be their chance to settle scores with the Proteas — particularly with the host squad lacking the experience and quality of the past — South Africa are known to be a different kettle of fish at home.

The other X factor are the quirks of a two-Test series, where it is imperative for India to show considerable discipline in their shot selection on a wicket which will have bounce and carry early on but has the propensity to show cracks and act as a dual-paced one later.

It will be quite a test of character for their batting line-up, which does not have the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane to drop anchor any more. There will be obvious baits on offer for the captain to hook or pull, and for Kohli to launch into an expansive drive outside the off-stump.

Meanwhile, the team management is looking at a higher work rate from KL Rahul, who has been engaged in extensive keeping practice at the nets over the last few days. The wisdom of such an experiment may be debatable, but then as Rohit said: ‘’I felt the way he kept in the World Cup, he worked really hard and was impressive. It gives us the option to play a solid batter in the middle order. He does most things right when he bats in the middle order in ODIs. He knows the situation and how to bat. I am not sure how long he wants to keep, but as long as he does, he’ll do well.’’   

South African coach Shukri Conrad summed up the dynamics of a two-Test series perfectly: ‘’There are so many match-ups that this series hinges on. It’s two Tests, so it’s high pressure. You go 1-0 down and you can’t win the series. You go 1-0 up, you can’t lose. It’s going to be like a heavyweight boxing bout.’’ 

The second Test is scheduled at Newlands, Cape Town from 3-7 January.

Catch the match 

South Africa vs India 

First Test, Supersport Park, Centurion 

Starts: 26 December, 1.30 pm IST

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