India's Likely XI In South Africa
NEW DELHI, INDIA DECEMBER 05: Rohit Sharma of India plays a shot during fourth day of the third cricket test match against Sri Lanka, at Ferozshah Kotla in New Delhi. (Photo by Pankaj Nangia/India Today Group/Getty Images)

In what is going to be Virat Kohli’s toughest assignment since he took over as India’s full-time captain, India have announced a 17-member Test squad for the tour of South Africa. The first Test match commences on January 5th and it will be a three match Test series followed by 6 ODIs and 3 T20Is. Apart from tours to lower-ranked nations like West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, this will be the first major test for Kohli’s men in Tests since the 2014/15 tour of Australia during which MS Dhoni retired from Tests and Kohli was appointed as skipper. India’s 17-member squad comprises of:

India’s Likely XI In South Africa

Virat Kohli (Captain), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vc), Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Parthiv Patel, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah

So, come the first test match at Cape Town on the 5th of January, how are India likely to line up? Let us have a look at the possible and likely combinations.

Openers 
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India have named three openers in the squad – Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan. At the start of the India vs Sri Lanka series last month, Vijay was making a comeback from a long injury and was not included in the XI for the first Test match. Dhawan and Rahul played and although both failed to do much of note in the first innings, they came up with good half centuries in the second innings helping India to almost a victory on the final day of the Test affected by rain. Dhawan missed the second Test because of personal reasons and Vijay came into his place and he grabbed his opportunity. He put on great partnerships with Pujara and Kohli and took his chance with both hands. As Dhawan returned for the final Test in Delhi, KL Rahul had to lose his place and Dhawan scored 23 and 67 in the two innings with Vijay managing to get another century.

Vijay’s recent form and his impressive record overseas means that he is a certainty to be one of the openers in the first test. Vijay has always been a stable and dependable player at the top and his qualities will be key for India to get off to good starts with the bat. The big question would be to decide who the other opener will be. Dhawan has been in good touch in all formats, recently and Rahul had made 7 consecutive 50+ scores in Tests before the first Test against Sri Lanka. It will be a very tight call and whoever misses out can consider themselves to be unlucky. Although Rahul has shown great temperament to score runs in tough conditions with centuries in Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka, it is possible that recent form and the prospect of left hand-right hand combination is likely to give Dhawan the edge for the first Test match, atleast.

Middle-order
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India have always been blessed with great middle order batsman and it is no different, right now. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are dead certain to be Numbers 3 and 4 and if India are to have a successful series, it is crucial that both perform to the best of the abilities. Pujara is going into the series in pretty good nick and Virat Kohli has been in nothing short of incredible form. He notched up a century and two double hundreds against Sri Lanka and he will be well rested ahead of the series with him not taking part in the limited overs leg of the series against Sri Lanka. Both have a tally of over 1000 runs in Tests in 2017 and will be brimming with confidence ahead of the big series against South Africa.

India’s vice-captain, Ajinkya Rahane, is however going through a bit of a torrid run of form. He managed a mere 17 runs in five innings in the Sri Lanka and has not exactly been a regular in the limited overs side, as well. Rahane, despite all his issues with the form in recent times will certainly play, but he is under pressure at the moment and no one is pushing him more than fellow Mumbaikar Rohit Sharma. Rohit did not play in the first Test but scored a century in the second Test and managed twin fifties in the third Test. India are likely to go in with five batsman + 2 allrounders + wicketkeeper, so, Rohit will have to bide his time initially but over the series, there may be a change in plans and he could get a look-in.

All-rounders and Wicketkeeper

In overseas conditions, Hardik Pandya is almost a certainty to be picked in the first Test against South Africa. Although he was rested for the Sri Lanka series, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t picked to offer balance as he is India’s best fast bowling allrounder, at the moment. He has played just three Tests, but has already got a century and will be expected to lend balance to the side.

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The other all-rounder’s spot is a straight shoot-out between Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Both are two of the best spinners in the world, at the moment and it will be a pretty tough choice to pick from one of the two. However, the fact that Ashwin has been batting at No.6 for India whenever they play with just five batsmen and is a more accomplished batsman means he will be India’s choice for the other all-rounder’s spot.

India are taking Parthiv Patel as back-up to Wriddhiman Saha for the tour. Saha is absolutely India’s first choice wicketkeeper and has done a very commendable job since filling into MS Dhoni’s big shoes. Saha is a top wicketkeeper and his batting that has been questioned at times has improved massively and he will be a key player for India.

Fast Bowlers

With India likely to go with two all-rounders, there will be three spots for the fast bowlers. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami are almost certain to be picked. Both have done extremely well for India and for the first time in many years, one could say India possess genuinely threatening fast bowling options. The other fast bowlers in the squad are Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, who hasn’t yet played Test cricket for India despite being an excellent performer in limited overs for India and in domestic first-class cricket.
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The choice is likely to be between Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma and this could be decided based on the conditions. If the pitch is likely to have a lot of bounce and carry, Ishant Sharma will probably play and if the pitch is skiddy in nature, Umesh Yadav is likely to get a look in. Considering that Umesh has been more consistent in the last 18 months, it is more probable that he will get the nod.

India’s Likely XI – Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli(captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha(wk), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami.

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