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South Africa brace for trial by spin at Visakhapatnam
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South Africa brace for trial by spin at Visakhapatnam

An invincible Indian Test side gradually establishing its hegemony in world cricket take on a wobbly South African team still in the throes of rebuilding at what is expected to be another spin-friendly pitch in Visakhapatnam.

The series marks South Africa's first assignment under the newly inaugurated World Test Championship but they are arguably at their weakest following the retirements of stalwarts Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla.

With 40 championship points at stake, the travelers hope to overturn their form in red-ball cricket, which recently took a massive hit during their 0-2 defeat to a young Sri Lankan squad at home in February.

The Proteas fortunes further worsened with their seventh-place finish at the end of a dismal World Cup campaign.

Amidst the gloomy context that greets the visitors, they will be encouraged by tremendous performances from Aiden Markram and Temba Bavuma in the practice game ahead of the series.

The T20I series preceding the Test encounters also offers South Africa some respite where Quinton de Kock's sumptuous hitting nullified the threat posed by India's bowlers.

India, meanwhile, have consolidated their position at the top of the ICC Test team rankings and simultaneously are placed No. 1 in the Test championship table following their whitewash over the West Indies.

India boast an enviable home record with no side being able to breach their fortress across a Test series since England triumphed in their 2012-13 tour to the South Asian nation.

While some argue Virat Kohli inherited a side already equipped with probably the best spin duo on the planet, his captaincy has ushered in a renewed focus on bolstering pace stocks resulting in a brilliant all-round bowling attack.

The scars of South Africa's last ill-fated tour to India in 2015 still persist and the inability of their batsmen to thrive under spin-conducive conditions continues given the 0-2 drubbing in Sri Lanka last year.

India, tinkering with their batting combination, start as favourites with South Africa awaiting a miracle to topple the hosts.

Ashwin's relentless Test progress

Ravichandran Ashwin is back in the thick of things as the veteran off-spinner aims to add to his astronomical tally of 342 wickets in 65 Test games.

Although Ashwin has lost his zing in white-ball cricket to the wrist-spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, he dominates the Test arena with his loopy off-breaks - a daunting task to tackle on any surface.

The 33-year-old was South Africa's nemesis in their trip to India four years ago when he claimed 31 wickets in seven innings and he will be vying to contribute in the same manner this time around.

Keshav Maharaj - South Africa's promised saviour?

The 29-year-old Keshav Maharaj has easily eclipsed his peers to emerge as South Africa's best spinner in the Test line-up.

He is expected to play a key role if the tourists are to be equally potent in the bowling department.

Maharaj registered astonishing figures of nine for 129 in the second Test against Sri Lanka in July 2018, a feat never achieved before by a visiting bowler in the island nation. He certainly possesses the skills to outfox any opposing batsman and would definitely be a go-to option for skipper Faf du Plessis.

India playing XI

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

South Africa squad

Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma (vc), Theunis de Bruyn, Quinton de Kock, Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Senuran Muthusamy, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Vernon Philander, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Rudi Second