South Africa and India meet in the first of their three match Test series at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday, with the two sides currently second and first in the ICC Test rankings respectively.
It is a ground that heavily favours the hosts as they have been beaten only once there in 15 matches going back to 2006. Key to that success has been getting runs on the board in the first innings – South Africa have averaged 425 in their past seven Tests at Newlands, and have only once failed to score more than 300.
Pace bowling is likely to dominate the series, and the South African attack is potent, with Morne Morkel’s height, Kagiso Rabada’s bounce and the accuracy of Vernon Philander. There is also the experienced Dale Steyn to consider, but he is working his way back from long-term injury, and South African coach Otis Gibson has already intimated that he may find it hard to fit him into the team for this first Test.
However, India have quality pace bowlers of their own with the likes of Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and they are likely to have a key role to play if India are going to prosper, because it will be a luxury if the visitors decide to go into the match with two specialist spinners on such a pitch.
India will go into the match confident because they have won their last nine consecutive Test series, but one needs to go back to 2008 – 2009 for the last time that they won outside Asia. Furthermore, their record in South Africa is poor, having only ever won two tests there, their joint fewest in any country, along with Pakistan.
Much will depend on captain Virat Kohli and the ability of experienced batsmen like Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan to adapt to South African conditions, but the Indian middle order could be weakened by the absence of Ravindra Jadega, who is suffering from flu.
For South Africa, Faf du Plessis, will return to the side to the captain the team after missing their recent match against Zimbabwe with illness, and Quinton de Kock will continue to remain their first-choice keeper after recovering from his hamstring strain.
South Africa will start favourites, but it should be a closely fought contest.