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India vs South Africa: All Eyes on Rohit Sharma & Ravichandran Ashwin in Series Opener at Vizag


South Africa couldn't have asked for a tougher start to their ICC World Test Championship debut. Playing the No. 1 ranked India in India, especially with a team in transition, it doesn't get tougher than this. The trial by fire starts in Visakhapatnam on October 2.
While South Africa begin life without Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla, India have such a strong side that they are experimenting with a key position. Rohit Sharma is set to get a go as Test opener, in a move India hopes will pay off in the long run.
India's captain Virat Kohli said they are ready to give him time to figure out his approach - does he play the 'normal way', or try and become another Virender Sehwag?
The big news of the day from the Indian camp though, is Rishabh Pant being dropped for Wriddhiman Saha. The Bengal keeper is the senior and did everything right before being injured last year, but Pant did no wrong filling in either.
No Indian keeper has Test centuries in Australia and England, and Pant will feel robbed off the chance to have a go at home. India are backing Saha now given he's the superior keeper, which is of huge importance at home too.
But such big calls, and announcing their XI a day earlier, show the confidence India have in their team. Their batting is long; they're set to bat till No. 9 with Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin both in the side.
They've got four bowlers, who have more often than not done the job in India. The bulk of the work, of course, will be done by the spinners.
It was an easy call to get Ashwin back in the side at home. He's lost his position as primary spinner overseas, but the story is different in these conditions.
He'll have added motivation to do well too - a good series will help even though conditions home and abroad are different. Jadeja, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami will just look to continue their good work from the previous series against West Indies.
India's batting is solid even without the length. Cheteshwar Pujara had a poor series in West Indies but that's usually a one-off. Kohli is, well, Kohli. Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari's runs in the middle order was a big factor in West Indies, and they'll be hoping for more of the same.
South Africa will be trying to identify their best XI suited for these conditions. The job for them is simple - if they bat well, they can test India.
That's because they've got good bowlers too; the big names are Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi. But in India, the bigger job is on left-arm pacer Keshav Maharaj and one among off-spinner Dane Piedt and left-arm spinner Senuran Muthuswamy.
Maharaj has impressed in his short Test career, playing bulk of his cricket in tough conditions for spinners. Now is his chance to have some fun. Piedt played one Test in South Africa's last tour to India (2015) and has some experience. He can also add some runs in the lower order.
But given India have only one left-hand batsman in their XI - Jadeja - don't be surprised if South Africa play two left-arm spinners by including Muthusamy too.
The batting will be the stiffer challenge. They'll take confidence from Aiden Markram's form at the top; the opener has two centuries in his last three innings in India this tour.
Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis are experienced and have the ability to grind it out, while Temba Bavuma too is not short of confidence after a couple of good knocks in the T20Is and the game against Board President's XI.
Facing Ashwin and Jadeja, and the constant heat from Shami and Ishant, won't be an easy task though.
But more important than all this is the weather. Rain is expected on all five days of the Test; it's that time of the year in Vizag! The venue has hosted only one Test so far - against England in 2016 - and the fans there will be praying for an interruption free second Test.
India XI: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli(c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha(w), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
South Africa Squad: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis(c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock(w), Zubayr Hamza, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Dane Piedt, Heinrich Klaasen, Anrich Nortje, Senuran Muthusamy.

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