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Cricket news - India welcome the home comforts once again

India gear up for a Test-filled home season

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 really 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 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.

When: India vs South Africa, 1st Test, October 2-6, From 09:30 IST, 04:00 GMT

Where: Dr. YSR ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium, Visakhapatnam

What to expect: The pitch bears a uniformly cream colouration with barely any grass on it or in Kohli's words: A typical Vizag wicket. The city has been receiving early morning showers over the last week and some rain has been forecast on each of the five days. On a track that should progressively aid spin, the first-morning overheads could force teams, especially South Africa, into reconsidering the merits of playing to their strengths - with an extra quick - even though the only other Test here saw 25 wickets fall to spinners.

Team News:

India

India's playing XI was announced on the eve of the match. Wriddhiman Saha will don the keeping gloves while Hanuma Vihari will serve as a part-time fifth-bowling option. Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami will play as the two frontline seamers.

India XI: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami

South Africa

Despite an inexperienced batting line-up South Africa is unlikely to disrupt what looks, on paper, a balanced bowling attack. To accommodate Zubayr Hamza at No.6 in the first Test - a conservative move - they'll have to toss up between Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi so that they can play two frontline spinners (Maharaj and Piedt). While Philander offers additional batting cushion and excellent control, Ngidi's extra pace through the air and straight lines can take even a sluggish pitch out of the equation.

Probable XI: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi

Did you know?

- India are chasing a record 11th consecutive series win at home. They currently have 10 on the bounce in a run dating back to 2012-13 season

- Faf du Plessis averages 22.38 from 12 Tests in Asia. This average drops to 21.19 against spinners, to whom he has fallen 16 out of 19 times

- R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja average 17.5 and 13.9 respectively in Tests vs South Africa. They took 54 off the 70 South African wickets to fall in the 2015 series

What they said:

"I think the most amount of credit has to go to the team, because we, we lay down a vision in 2015, that, you know, we're going to be flexible [with our combination]. We were going to choose sides according to the conditions that we're playing in. Because we want results, we want to be successful as a team, and we want to be at the top of the world. So if the team hadn't bought into it, then it becomes a little difficult for guys who started don't start to, you know, play with the kind of intent that you played with." - Virat Kohli has his own take on what makes his Test side so dominant.

"We are definitely looking at a combination of having five bowling options in our team to try and maximise getting 20 wickets, and conditions will change through the tour and we'll try and assess whatever we think is the best bowling unit that can get you 20 wickets. Generally in Test cricket that's what wins you Test matches" - Faf du Plessis is willing to play Philander as the No. 7 if it means he can play five Frontline bowlers

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