Big picture: India chase history
The final frontier. That’s what South Africa has proven to be for India. Since South Africa’s readmission to international cricket, India have made eight Test tours to the country. The closest they came to winning was in 2010-11 when the three-match series ended 1-1.
This time it’s a shorter series, just two Tests – in Centurion and Cape Town. Whichever team wins the first will have an unassailable lead. With the disappointment of the ODI World Cup still lingering and the planning for the T20 World Cup in mind, can India squeeze a piece of history in between?
The challenge for South Africa will be to get into the Test groove as quickly as possible – they last played red-ball cricket in March. This is also their first assignment in the current World Test Championship cycle. India started theirs in the West Indies, where they won the first Test before rain forced a draw in the second.
And the rain threat looms large in Centurion as well. There is a forecast of rain on the first two days of the Test.
South Africa WWDLL (last five Tests, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Aiden Markram and KL Rahul
Team news: Shardul Thakur or R Ashwin?
Kagiso Rabada (bruised heel) and Lungi Ngidi (ankle sprain) have recovered from their respective injuries and should feature in the playing XI. Keegan Petersen was the Player of the Series when India last toured South Africa, but his stocks have plummeted since then and he will compete with uncapped David Bedingham for a place.
South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Tony de Zorzi, 4 Temba Bavuma (capt), 5 David Bedingham/Keegan Petersen, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Gerald Coetzee, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Lungi Ngidi
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Shubman Gill, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 KL Rahul (wk), 6 Shreyas Iyer, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Shardul Thakur/R Ashwin, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Pitch and conditions: It’s South Africa’s fortress
Stats and trivia: Kohli stands tall
“Playing against India comes with a lot more eyes and a lot more scrutiny in terms of everything we do. So it is accepting that. And the other, the more obvious one, is the skill factor on the field. For me as a batter, the bowlers are going to put you under pressure and their batting attack as well; they’ve got renowned Test players and guys who have performed in all conditions. They are a determined team as well, who want to be able to say they have won a Test series here in South Africa. So with [India having] that extra bit of drive and motivation, we will really need to be at our best.
Temba Bavuma on the challenges of playing India
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo