Will India pick Shardul for 1st Test?

World No 1 India will aim to conquer the final frontier as they chase a historic first-ever Test series victory in South Africa.

After all the off-field drama in the past week, the focus will finally shift to cricket when the Virat Kohli-led Indian team takes on South Africa in the first Test, starting in Centurion on December 26.

India have been on a roll, winning three of their last five Test series (including with the series against England, which they led 2-1 before it was suspended due to COVID-19 earlier this year).

Meanwhile, South Africa have struggled for consistency, winning just two of their last five series.

But South Africa hasn’t been one of India’s favoured places on tour. They have never won a series in seven attempts, suffering a 2-1 defeat on their last one in 2018.

India’s batters will take a lot of inspiration from head coach Rahul Dravid, who was renowned for his gutsy batting in difficult conditions.

Kohli will lead from the front and hope to end his century drought in South Africa. India’s captain, who has not scored a Test century in more than two years, boasts of a good record in South Africa, with 558 runs in five Tests at an average of 55, with two centuries and two fifties in 10 innings.

New vice-captain K L Rahul could be vital for India with the bat in the absence of his senior opening partner Rohit Sharma, who was ruled out with injury.

Mayank Agarwal will partner his old friend Rahul after a good showing in the Mumbai Test where he scored a century and fifty.

Cheteshwar Pujara could retain his position at No 3 with Shreyas Iyer slotting in at No 5.

The question remains whether India keeps faith in the struggling Ajinkya Rahane, who also had a good record in South Africa, with a tally of 266 runs in three Tests at an average of 53.

However, he faces stiff competition from Hanuma Vihari, who warmed up nicely for the tour with three fifty-plus scores of 54, 72 not out and 63 respectively for India ‘A’ during the recent tour of South Africa.

With Kohli preferring five bowlers in away Test matches, India might go in with only five specialist batsmen, which could rule out both Rahane and Vihari.

Rishabh Pant will take over the gloves after being rested for the home series against New Zealand.

Ravichandran Ashwin is set to start as the lone spinner in the absence of the injured Ravindra Jadeja, with Shardul Thakur likely to get the nod as the medium pace all-rounder — a role he played to perfection during India’s historic victory in Brisbane earlier this year, scoring a fifty and taking seven wickets.

Thakur also slammed two half-centuries and claimed three wickets to lift India to victory against England in the fourth Test at The Oval in September.

India’s pace trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj look strong for the inexperienced South Africa batting line-up.

Probable XI K L Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (captain), Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Shardul Thakur, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Jasprit Bumrah.

Who do you think should be part of India’s playing XI for the first Test against South Africa, starting on December 26? Pleasse pick your choices from the list below:

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