Sharma opens for India in 1st Test vs revamped South Africa

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Pant dropped in favor of Saha

India’s Rohit Sharma plays a shot against Bangladesh during their second Twenty20 cricket match in Nidahas triangular series in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on March 14. (AP)

VISAKHAPATNAM, India, Oct 1, (AP): Limited-overs specialist Rohit Sharma will be a surprising opener for India in the first Test against a rebuilding South Africa beginning Wednesday.

Captain Virat Kohli said Sharma, who averages 39.62 in 27 Tests since 2013, will open for the short term with Lokesh Rahul sent back to domestic cricket to regain form.

Sharma has never been able to extend his ODI form, where he averages 48.5 in 218 matches with 27 centuries, to the longer format.

He has never opened even in domestic first-class cricket apart from his two-ball duck in a practice game against South Africa last week.

“We are in no hurry with Rohit as opener,” Kohli said Tuesday. “It is all about a mental change and the whole team is excited to see if he can replicate his ODI form. He will be given the space to find his own game and come into his own.”

No. 1-ranked India will be without paceman Jasprit Bumrah, who has been ruled out of the three-Test series with a minor back stress fracture. India will revert to a two-spinner, two-pacer formula in home conditions.

Ravichandran Ashwin will return to the side after not playing in the West Indies as India team management favored Ravindra Jadeja. Ashwin last played Test cricket against Australia at Adelaide in December 2018, ending a lengthy absence for the off-spinner who has taken 234 wickets in 38 home Tests.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant has been dropped in favor of Wriddhiman Saha, who also returns to the Test side for the first time since January 2018. Saha was out for almost a year due to a shoulder injury.

South Africa will take the field in Test cricket for the first time since the retirements of mainstays Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, and skipper Faf du Plessis has already said he will retire after the Twenty20 World Cup next year.

Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada are expected to lead the new-ball attack for South Africa. Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn and Zubayr Hamsa are expected to give South Africa their batting boost, with none of those batsmen featuring in the 2015 four-Test series in India won 3-0 by the hosts.

“We are a different unit,” du Plessis said. “It is a very young batting lineup and they are motivated to do well in international cricket, and this tour will be no different for them.”

The second Test begins Oct 10 in Pune and the third Oct 19 in Ranchi.


India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (captain), Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Zubayr Hamsa, Vernon Philander, Quinton de Kock, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt, Anrich Nortje, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada.

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