After a closely fought Twenty20 International series, which ended in a 1-1 draw, the focus now shifts to the longest format which promises both – a tough contest and some exciting player battles to look forward to.
Considering the recent form, conditions and experience, India might appear to be the superior team when they take on South Africa in a three-match Test series beginning 2 October in Visakhapatnam. However, the visitors, strengthened by the return of their Test skipper, Faf du Plessis will leave no stone unturned to retain the Freedom Trophy.
Both teams have world-class players in their line-ups, who will go head-to-head over the next three weeks. Here's a look at some of the more exciting match-ups.
1) Virat Kohli v Kagiso Rabada
The clash between the Indian skipper and South Africa's bowling sensation is arguably the most anticipated one of the series. Both are placed at the second position in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings for their respective categories and their naturally aggressive instincts always promise entertaining cricket.
Rabada, who made his Test debut against India in 2015, had bagged Kohli as his first Test wicket and since then, has taken giant strides as a Test bowler. The tall paceman boasts a bowling strike-rate of 38.81 – the best among bowlers with more than 150 Test wickets. Kohli had aggregated 286 runs from three Tests when these two sides last met in 2017-18 and will look to produce the same goods at home. Both players hold high regard for each other.
"Rabada is a world-class bowler. He has the kind of skillset to go through any batting order on his day," Kohli had said of the 24-year-old pacer during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019. While Rabada had praised the Indian captain during the recently concluded T20I series: "Virat is already regarded as a great of the game with some pedigree. Playing him is an opportunity to test yourself as a player."
2) Dean Elgar v Ravichandran Ashwin
Ravichandran Ashwin, the off-spinner is particularly lethal against left-handers. His career bowling average of 25.43 drops below 20 against left-handers. He has accounted for top batsmen like David Warner and Alistair Cook nine times each in Test cricket. He was the leading wicket-taker in the 2015 home series against South Africa, grabbing 31 wickets at an astounding average of 11.13, and will now look to have a similar impact, after he was excluded from both the Tests in West Indies.
Elgar, one of South Africa's most consistent batsmen in Tests, has found himself wanting against Ashwin, being dismissed five times by the off-spinner in 11 innings. However, being one of the only two batsmen in the game's history to have carried his bat through thrice in Tests, he knows how to grind it down against tough oppositions and churn out runs. Elgar's grit and Ashwin's subtle variations promise to produce a gripping contest in the series.
3) Faf du Plessis v Ravindra Jadeja
South Africa's senior-most batsman, their skipper, Faf du Plessis will have to put all his skills and experience into play to try and hold his team's batting together against a quality bowling attack like India. Du Plessis has shown his class as a white-ball player on Indian soil but has failed to live upto his reputation in Tests, managing just 60 runs from seven innings on the previous tour. He fell to spin on each of those occasions, with Jadeja being his nemesis in four innings.
Jadeja, India's prime all-rounder in Test Cricket, has been a match-winner in home conditions, with 144 wickets from 28 games at an average of 19.71. He is likely to be Kohli's key weapon once again and will look to continue his dominance against his Indian Premier League teammate.
4) Keshav Maharaj v Rishabh Pant
Keshav Maharaj has been one of South Africa's unsung heroes in red-ball cricket for the last few years with his accurate bowling. The left-arm spinner registered bowling figures of 9/129 against Sri Lanka last year – the second-best by a South African after Hugh Tayfield's 9/113 against England in 1957. Maharaj, who was South Africa's second-highest wicket-taker in 2018 [after Rabada], with 34 scalps from nine games, will relish bowling in spin-friendly conditions.
It won't be an easy task by any means against the Indian batsmen though, particularly Rishabh Pant, who demonstrates his destructive best against spinners. The left-hander had scored 184 runs in the home series against West Indies last year and will aim to cement his spot in the Indian Test team with more mature performances. Pant's aggressive streak and Maharaj's accuracy promise an exhilarating contest between bat and ball.
5) Vernon Philander v Cheteshwar Pujara
Both Philander and Pujara symbolise patience, skill and discipline with their respective crafts. Pujara struggled during the South Africa tour in 2017-18, managing just 100 runs from six innings before returning in flying colours against Australia a year later, aggregating 521 runs at an average of 74.43 to power India to a historic win Down Under.
Philander, who blossomed in his early years of Test Cricket despite big names like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel playing alongside, has been a proven match-winner for South Africa and was instrumental in their rise to the top position in Test Rankings in 2012. His career strike-rate of 48.6 is the third-highest for South African bowlers with more than 200 Test wickets – with only Dale Steyn and Allan Donald ahead of him.
He thrives on his ability to get the ball to seam in off a good length, towards the top of off-stump – a delivery which has at times troubled Pujara in the early part of his innings. It will be a test of character for both, as one will look to outclass the other with his discipline and resilience.