SA vs IND, Freedom Trophy 2021-22: Final Frontier awaits as India look to win Test series in SA
KL Rahul named vice-captain of Team India in Tests in Rohit Sharma's absence
For every captain, coach or team a feat which is considered insurmountable is the one they look forward to accomplish with a zeal that is unmatched in their other endeavours.
When it comes to the SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia), undoubtedly, all they look for is winning a series in sub-continent conditions or at least make an improvement on their past record. It is the exact same in the other direction for the Asian countries to go and do well in the conditions that aid swing and bounce in SENA countries.
It is a different challenge afterall, to play Test cricket, the pinnacle of all formats.
Recent Problems in CSA, BCCI loom large over Freedom Trophy 2021-22
It is really hard to figure out which of these two boards are in more trouble in the cricketing sense. On one side, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has somehow been thrashed out in between the words of its president, Sourav Ganguly and Test captain, Virat Kohli regarding the decision concerning the latter’s limited overs captaincy. Whereas on the flipside of the coin, Cricket South Africa (CSA) has decided to investigate findings of conduct that could be observed as racist made against Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher in the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) project’s report.
So going into the much-awaited series, staring on Boxing Day, December 26, 2021, at Centurion, both sides will keep their feet on the ground with the relentless drama playing out in their own boards.
Looking back at the Stats from Freedom Trophy 2018
India were so close to win the series in the Rainbow Nation last time around even though the stats didn’t suggest the fact at all. “South Africa was the start for us where we started believing in the fact that we can win overseas,” India skipper Kohli had addressed the media before leaving India about how well-prepared they are now to do well and rectify the mistakes from the previous tour.
Let’s take a look at some of the figures from that series.
Top Three Run-Scorers
Top Three Wicket-Takers
Story of the three Tests that India have won in South Africa
The mixture of youth and experience gifted India their first Test victory on South African soil under the leadership of Rahul Dravid. Winning the toss, India elected to bat on a bouncy Wanderers track and ended up with 249 runs in the first innings thanks to a half-century from comeback man, Sourav Ganguly.
A young Shanthakumaran Sreesanth broken the hosts batting lineup to pack them up for 84. With an advantage of a 165-run lead, VVS Laxman’s 73 set a target of 402 for the Proteas, which they fell short of by 123 runs as Zaheer Khan and Sreesanth did the job of cleaning them up. Sreesanth was adjudged Player of the Match for his match figures of 8/99.
India had bounced back quiet smartly to win their second red-ball game in the Rainbow Nation under MS Dhoni. India found themselves in trouble as Dale Steyn’s 6-wicket-haul on a green top using the swing and bounce paused the visitors at 205.
In reply, Zaheer Khan’s brutal swing and Harbhajan Singh’s spinning art bundled up South Africa for 131 runs. Even though India didn’t begin their 2nd innings well as they were prone to dismissals off some rash shots, Laxman’s 96 set a target of 303 before the hosts who couldn’t finish the job even after a 63-run opening partnership. Again, Zaheer and Sreesanth partnership sketched India’s 87-run victory.
Even after losing the Test series in the first couple of games, India showed great heart to achieve their third Test victory on South African soil under Virat Kohli. Batting first on an unfaithful Wanderers 22-yard, they were skittled out for only 187 thanks to half-centuries from captain Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Jasprit Bumrah shut the outside noise of his Test selection with a 5-fer that saw South Africa pulling up for 194. The pitch came under so much question on its safety. But India batted hard and shouldering on Ajinkya Rahane’s 48 and 41 from their leader Kohli, they threw the hosts a target of 241.
Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar did make the visitors nervous with a 119-run partnership but the world saw an exclusive show of India’s pace domination claiming 9 wickets for 53 runs; inspired by Mohammed Shami’s 5/28 as India bounced the Proteas out of the game with a 63-run win.
Read More: Rohit, Kohli and a Growing Wall in Indian Cricket before South Africa tour
Three Players to Watch Out for in Freedom Trophy 2021-22
As a viewer and fan of the game, one should look at three players from both sides in this series.
During India’s last tour to South Africa in 2018, Virat Kohli was the highest run-scorer for the visitors with 286 runs. He showed his class in most of the games. The innings of 153 at Centurion, where he single-handedly carried the whole batting line-up scoring runs against the pace of Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and co, was a treat for the eyes.
India will surely look up to the skipper to give his best this time around as well. Kohli too will love to end his century drought specially when he is going to play his 100th Test.
All the past players and fans of South Africa rate Aiden Markram highly and there is a reason why. He plays bounce so well growing up on these tracks but he is a tough player who can stand as a wall for his side against a world-class Indian bowling line-up.
During the last tour in 2018, Bumrah made his Test debut and ripped through the South African batting in the last Test with a 5-fer to shut all the selection critics. Now, he has got all the experience and maturity with him in the upcoming series. He has to take the extra responsibility to lead India’s pace bowling attack.
The Fine Line
To be honest, India will be slightly ahead going in the series specially after the news of fast bowler Anrich Nortje being ruled out of the series and veteran wicketkeeper-batter Quinton de Kock taking paternity leave in the last two Test matches.
India will miss the services of Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel due to injury as KL Rahul has been made new vice-captain. All the games will be played in closed doors due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases. All in all, an exciting Christmas and New Year are awaiting Indian fans.
Probable Playing XIs
India: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul (vc), Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane/Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj
South Africa: Dean Elgar (c), Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma (vc), Quinton de Kock (wk), Keegan Petersen, Wiaan Mulder, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier