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India vs South Africa: Top 5 battles to look forward to in Freedom series

From the mouth-watering clash between Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli and South Africa cricket team pacer Dale Steyn, to a technical classic between Ravichandran Ashwin and AB de Villiers, here is a look at five key player battles which could have a say in the outcome of the Freedom Series.

cricket Updated: Jan 04, 2018 18:18 IST
HT Correspondent
Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli and South Africa cricket team pacer Dale Steyn.
Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli and South Africa cricket team pacer Dale Steyn.(HT Photo)

It’s going to be a battle of table toppers as Indian cricket team and South Africa meet in a three-Test series beginning at Newlands, Cape Town, on Friday. While India hold the top spot in the ICC Rankings, South Africa cricket team is placed second.

The series is of paramount importance for both teams. India have reached rainbow nation on the back of nine consecutive Test series wins. However, as most of their victories came at home and against depleted Sri Lanka and West Indies sides away, this is touted as a real test against a quality side. South Africa, on the other hand, would look to seal a win in the series and boost their quest to regain the World No. 1 ranking.

Here we take a look at the five key player to player battles that can go a long way in deciding the result of the series between these two top cricketing nations.

1. Virat Kohli vs Dale Steyn

Indian cricket team skipper Virat Kohli and South Africa cricket team pacer Dale Steyn (HT Photo)

Virat Kohli, Indian cricket team skipper and arguably the best batsman of current generation, up against Dale Steyn, one of the greatest fast bowlers to have ever played the game. This is the encounter that everyone is looking forward to with a great deal of excitement.

However, cricket fans would have to wait for probably some more time before they get to see these two greats locking heads on a cricket field as Steyn, who is returning from an injury, may not play the first Test in Cape Town.

Kohli had a memorable year in 2017 when he scored 1059 runs from 10 Tests at a staggering average of 75.64. He is certainly India’s best batsman. A fully fit Steyn is capable of demolishing any batting lineup in the world. Steyn, though, is expected to play at some point during the series and whenever he does, him bowling to Kohli would be a sight to behold.

2. Murali Vijay vs Vernon Philander

Indian cricket team opener Murali Vijay and South Africa cricket team pacer Vernon Philander (HT Photo)

While Kohli-Steyn face-off is more like a contest between two rock bands, the battle between Vernon Philander and Murali Vijay is akin to two exponents of classical music taking on each other.

Vijay, who has earned the nickname ‘the Monk’ for his ability to bat for long durations, has played some superb innings overseas and would look to do the same this series. On the other hand, Philander, in the absence of Steyn, has established himself as South Africa’s first-choice pacer and his ability to swing the ball makes him deadly with the new ball.

3. Cheteshwar Pujara vs Kagiso Rabada

Cheteshwar Pujara of Indian cricket team and Kagiso Rabada of South Africa cricket team. (HT Photo)

Cheteshwar Pujara is probably India’s most technically sound batsman. His penchant for blocking one end and playing long innings reminds us of former India No. 3 Rahul Dravid, who was an architect of some of India’s most famous wins overseas. Pujara was in terrific form in 2017 as he finished as the second highest run getter in the year with a tally of 1140 runs at an average of 67.05.

Kagiso Rabada has made a name for himself in a very short span. The lanky speedster was the most successful South African bowler last year with a tally of 57 wickets from 11 matches at an average of 20.28. In fact, only Australian spinner Nathan Lyon claimed more wickets than him in the calendar year. Rabada can generate a lot of bounce from any wicket.

The battle between Rabada and Pujara will be quite exciting. Rabada will try to unsettle Pujara with his raw pace while the Indian would look to blunt him with his technique.

4. Mohammed Shami vs Dean Elgar

Indian cricket team pacer Mohammed Shami and South Africa cricket team opener Dean Elgar. (HT Photo)

Dean Elgar was the most successful South African batsman in 2017. He scored 1128 runs at an average of 53.71 from 12 Tests in the calendar year. He can attack and defend with equal effect. His wicket is what India would want early on in the matches to make an inroad into the South African batting.

The man who India can rely on dismissing Elgar is Mohammed Shami, India’s premier new-ball bowler over at the moment. It would be interesting to see how they fare against each other.

5. Ravichandran Ashwin vs AB de Villiers

Indian cricket team spin spearhead Ravichandran Ashwin and South Africa cricket team middle-order star AB de Villiers. (HT Photo)

Ravichandran Ashwin is India’s trump card at home but in away series, he has not been that effective. Ashwin, who recently became the fastest to reach 300 wickets in Tests, would look to better his away record in South Africa.

His duel with South Africa’s premier batsman, AB de Villiers, who is returning from an injury, would be quite fascinating. De Villiers has the ability to take the game away from a rival team in a very short span of time and would look to dominate against Ashwin, who would also be seen using all the tricks up his sleeve to outfox the South African batsman.