Unbeaten visitors look to spoil India's homecoming
November 5-9, 2015
Start time 0930 local (0400GMT)
India's wait for a Test at home is finally over. It has been two years since the team played a home series, and the drought is ending with a downpour. This is not just any series. This is the first four-Test series against South Africa in India, and South Africa's first in India since they became No.1.
The last time South Africa were in India, five years ago, the roles were reversed. Then, India were on top. But since then, South Africa have overtaken them and hosted India twice. Both times, the action has been absorbing. In 2010, India were hours away from upstaging South Africa in their own backyard. In 2013, the drawn drawn Test at the Wanderers provided one of cricket's greatest what-ifs and the Boxing Day game which followed was a farewell to Jacques Kallis.
That day, India may have wondered how South Africa would cope without Kallis and although they are still searching for the answer in ODIs, in Test cricket they have transitioned well. Better than India, some would say.
South Africa have gone through a change of coach and captain without a change in results. India have grappled with a much more difficult changing of the guard, that will see play a home Test without any of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag or Saurav Ganguly for the first time since 1988. Virat Kohli was born that year, and half the current squad were not. But they are a young group, with a lot to prove, mostly to themselves. They need to show that cricket can move on.
South Africa have already done that but need to keep moving. They have learnt that to hold on to their position at the top, they have to keep coming up with more creative ways to stay there. This trip will test those skills more than any other.
(last five completed games most recent first)
South Africa DDWDW
In the spotlight
The series opener requires someone to set the tone and the two people most suited to doing that are the captains. Both are relatively new in the job with Virat Kohli leading India for the first time at home and only the seventh time overall .At least he has a good day to do it, on his 27th birthday. Kohli will want no gift other than a strong first showing from his men.
Hashim Amla has been in charge for just eight matches, and has not lost yet. His own form, though, is under scrutiny. Amla has not scored a fifty on this tour of India and is struggling for runs. But he has a record in the country few can match. On three tours, Amla has scored four centuries, including a double-hundred, and amassed 823 runs, the most by any South African in India. If he can add 177 to that, he will become only the fourth overseas batsman to score 1000 Test runs in India. If he does that all in one innings, or even in one match, he will be back in form too.
India will field five bowlers, even if it means shortening their batting line-up. They are likely to play all three specialist spinners with only two of the three seamers, and will have to choose between Chesteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma at No.5.
India: (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 M Vijay, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Cheteshwar Pujara/Rohit Sharma, 6 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 7 R Ashwin, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Amit Mishra, 10 and 11 Umesh Yadav/Varun Aaron/Bhuvneshwar Kumar
JP Duminy, who had stitches removed from the cut on his hand, is "unlikely," in Amla's words, to be rushed back from injury which will allow Temba Bavuma an opportunity in the middle order. South Africa will have to find holding overs from someone else, probably part-timers. They are likely to rely on their usual three-pronged pace pack, provided Morne Morkel passes a fitness test, which could see Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl bowl more than usual. Imran Tahir could make a Test comeback 11 months after he last appeared in the longest format unless South Africa go conservative and opt for Simon Harmer.
South Africa: (probable) 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Stiaan van Zyl, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Hashim Amla (capt), 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Temba Bavuma, 7 Dane Vilas (wk), 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Simon Harmer/Imran Tahir
Pitch and conditions
The PCA pitch has been the subject of more speculation than is normal ahead of this Test because it is expected to be India's 12th man. Ravi Shastri has spoken about the importance of home conditions, which suggests India will request rank turners, and after the recent controversies with ground curators, they are likely to get them, even in Mohali which has traditionally been kinder to quicks. Amla said he expected the surface to turn "a bit," but laughed when asked if that was all he expected. The square has not been relaid in 23 years, which would also suggest spin on offer. The pitch was yellowish-green in colour on the eve of the Test.
The weather up north has been much cooler than in other parts of the country with pleasant temperatures in the mid-20s and no humidity. The seasonal smog, a product of the stubble-burning from rice farmers throughout the state, continues to hang in the air and with early sunsets, bad light could become a concern.
Stats and Trivia
- India have only lost one home Tess series in the last 11 years, to England in 2012. Between November 2004 and November 2015, they played 17 series at home, winning 12 and drawing five. They have not had any home Tests for the last two years.
- South Africa's unbeaten nine-year streak on the road has included 13 series in all 10 Test countries other than their own where Test cricket is hosted, including Pakistan. Of those, there are only two places where South Africa have not won, but drawn series: India and the UAE, both twice.
Quotes "It will be an exciting and special moment for me tomorrow when I take the field in my first home game as captain. Secondly it's my birthday as well so it doubles up the excitement for tomorrow."
Virat Kohli is all smiles ahead of his first home Test as skipper
"I think we know the way South Africans play, whether it's under me or Graeme. We try and play tough cricket on the field. There's no need to look further than that. We try not to put any emphasis on the opposition, but on what we do. One of our successes is we've managed to bat, bowl and field pretty decently away from home and we want to continue that."
Hashim Amla promises more of the same from South Africa in this series
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent