Ajinkya Rahane paused briefly before flashing a smile when reminded of his opportune return to century-making form ahead of the home season. “We understand the conditions well here,” he would say later in the press conference in a way of political correctness. That is an understatement and a half. India have lost just one Test at home since the start of the 2013 season. It is the sort of enviable record that allows the management to push an old (in their words) idea – using Rohit Sharma as a Test opener – with some degree of confidence.
India welcome this run of five Test Championship games, against South Africa and Bangladesh, after a two-year away cycle (they did play three scattered home Tests against Afghanistan and West Indies in 2018), which despite encountering obvious bumps, delivered them a golden batch of fast bowlers and established their standing as the preeminent Test team. Now back in the comforts of home, the narrative turns once more to Messrs Ashwin and Jadeja.
It is a curious period for serial record-setter Ashwin in particular. Already consigned to just the one-format in the national side, Ashwin has not been played since last year’s Adelaide Test. He has now also gone nearly two years without a Test match five-wicket haul and has seen the team management constantly plum up Kuldeep Yadav’s case. Jadeja’s fifer barren run has been just as long, but his defensive capabilities with the ball has helped him usurp Ashwin as the solo spinner in overseas conditions. The arrival of South Africa, though, should make way for sweet nostalgia. The idea of facing Ashwin, and Jadeja, on custom-made dust bowls had the Proteas breaking out in cold sweats during the 2015 series.
That was a South Africa with AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla in the line-up. Four years on, a very different, a very young side will try their luck. Keshav Maharaj, they hope, is the trump card that will keep India from overtly flexing their spin muscle. Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma, meanwhile have to evolve into the batting flagbearers of gen-next that South Africa so yearn for. They have the ingredients, albeit raw, but they will have to rediscover the way to compete in India; the preceding generation isn’t handholding them through it.
It’s about as hard a start as conceivable for South Africa in the Championship. It looks worse when they glance to the other side and see India losing Jasprit Bumrah and appearing no weaker for it. They are No.1 on the Test Championship standings by a distance and expect that chasm to grow over the next few weeks.
India has already announced their playing XI against South Africa with Rohit Sharma is all set to open the innings tomorrow if the toss goes in India’s favor.
India XI : M Agarwal, R Sharma, C Pujara, V Kohli (c), A Rahane, H Vihari, W Saha (wk), R Jadeja, R Ashwin, I Sharma, M Shami