India vs South Africa: Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill and other players to watch out for in Freedom Trophy

FirstCricket Staff

After the three-T20I series between India and South Africa ended in a 1-1 stalement with the Proteas pulling off a series-leveling win in Bengaluru, the action now shifts to Visakhapatnam where the first of the three Tests gets underway.

Team India enter the Test series as favourites given their stranglehold on touring teams in recent years, their enviable home record making them something of an unbeatable side. This, despite not having star pacer Jasprit Bumrah, who has been ruled out of the series due to a 'minor stress fracture' and has been replaced by Umesh Yadav.

The Proteas, on the other hand, have the momentum of their nine-wicket humbling of the hosts in the third T20I on their side, but will be well aware of the challenges that the longest format entails, especially in the subcontinent.

They had won both the T20I and ODI legs the last time they toured India four years ago, but were decisively outplayed in the Tests 0-3, which opening batsman Aiden Markram believes could still be playing on the minds of several members of the squad.

The Indian selectors had made a few changes while announcing the squad, dropping KL Rahul and giving Shubman Gill his maiden call-up in Tests. Let us take a look at five Indian players who could have a major impact in the upcoming Tests, both in terms of the series result as well as their own careers:

Rohit Sharma

Don't go by the two-ball duck that he registered in the warm-up game against the Proteas. As glittering as his limited-overs international run has been, his Test career has been a start-stop one.

Rohit, thus, will be yearning to capture the opener's slot in the longest format of the game for good when he walks out to bat in the upcoming Test series. The opportunity came about after the decline in form of the likes of Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, and more recently, KL Rahul, with only Mayank Agarwal showing any kind of consistency at the top of the order in whites.

Rohit has been in fine form in white-ball cricket this year, finishing as the top run-getter in the recent World Cup after slamming five hundreds. The Mumbai batsman will hope to reign in on his instincts and cut down on the risky shots €" which has led to him getting dismissed after promising starts in red-ball cricket in the past.

Ravichandran Ashwin

The Tamil Nadu off-spinner has not had the best of runs of late. Despite being one of the most prolific wicket-takers for the Indian team in recent years, Ashwin has found himself being benched more often than not, even in the Test format in which his selection was all but guaranteed not too long ago.

Ashwin sat out of both Tests in the West Indies tour, with Virat Kohli and the rest of the Indian team management opting to go with Ravindra Jadeja as the only specialist spinner in the XI to accommodate three frontline pacers.

However, Ashwin's record at home speaks for itself, and the Indian team management is likely to revert to the Ashwin-Jadeja pair for the assignments. Expect Ashwin to go full throttle in the series and make up for the lack of game time this year.

Shubman Gill

After his ODI debut during the tour of New Zealand earlier this year didn't quite go as per plan, Gill €" one marked out by many for the future €" will hope to have a better start to his Test career should he get the opportunity in upcoming Tests against South Africa after earning his maiden call-up in the format.

Gill's confidence would have got a boost after scoring back-to-back 90s in the two unofficial Tests against South Africa A this month.

However, the only slot available for him in the XI is at the top of order, with the team management likely to try Rohit and Mayank Agarwal for the first Test, the former's roaring limited-overs form making him a likelier candidate.

Gill's story could however, be another success story in the making should he get to make his debut at some point in the series.

Rishabh Pant

Pant has been one of the raging topics in Indian cricket of late along with that of the No 4 slot in the limited-overs formats €" the two topics being linked to each other since it's him who gets pushed for that position more than the others.

His shot-selection has polarised fans and experts alike. While some have warned of a 'rap in the knuckles' should he continued his erratic ways, others have urged the team management to show more support towards him and allow him to play his natural game.

The Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman will be hoping to put all discussions around him to an end in the upcoming series. That is if he gets picked over Wriddhiman Saha, who had cemented the wicketkeeper's slot in the Test team after MS Dhoni's retirement before getting sidelined due to injury last year.

Hanuma Vihari

After enjoying a breakthrough series in the tour of West Indies, Vihari could not be more excited to finally feature in whites in front of his home crowd.

Vihari was the top run-getter in the two Tests, collecting 289 runs at a stunning average of 96.33 €" second only to Steve Smith in the ongoing ICC Test Championship run charts.

He finally collected his maiden Test hundred at Kingston after coming close to the milestone a few times in the past, and followed it up with an unbeaten 53 to be named Player of the Match. With the No 6 slot in the team now firmly in his grasp, the Hyderabad batsman will hope to carry the red-hot form over to the South Africa Tests.

Also See: India vs South Africa, Highlights, 1st T20I at Dharamsala: Match abandoned due to rain

Highlights, India vs South Africa, 2nd T20I at Mohali, Full Cricket Score: Kohli, Iyer guide hosts to seven-wicket win

India vs South Africa: Ravi Shastri warns Rishabh Pant over rash shots, says youngster will get 'rap on knuckles' if repeated

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