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Right. Till a couple of months ago, this was the tour that would’ve cast the current Indian side as one of the greatest to have ever stepped onto a cricket field. The team, led by Virat Kohli, had the perfect opportunity to win a Test series against the Proteas in South Africa and build on their white-ball success in the nation. And then, it broke.

In December, a lot of back and forth between Kohli and the BCCI took place. The former was then sacked (replaced or any other term based on your taste), with Rohit Sharma installed in his steam. Rohit then got injured and was ruled out of the ODI series, with the latest bit of drama being added by Kohli quitting Test captaincy altogether.

Under ordinary circumstances, a player leaving the top post in red-ball cricket shouldn’t affect the fortunes of an international outfit in other formats. But this is India and this is Kohli, meaning that the after-effects will surely be felt. How much it impacts the entire team is another matter, although you can be rest assured it will be a factor.

The primary task then would be to concentrate on the cricket as quickly as possible – something that can come about if KL Rahul (interim skipper) and Shikhar Dhawan get acclimatized quickly. Ruturaj Gaikwad could also be more than a handful, provided he gets an opportunity, whereas Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav might have something to prove too, especially after their recent red-ball omissions.

Speaking of points to prove, no one will be itching as much to let the bat do the talking as Kohli. A lot has been made of his decision to resign from captaincy but much of it will be forgotten if he starts piling up the runs like he once did in ODIs. From a similar viewpoint, Rishabh Pant would also hope that he can translate his Test form into ODI cricket.

Bowling wise, India have a problem of plenty. Almost all of their first-choice seamers (including Mohammed Siraj) are fit and raring to go. Jasprit Bumrah seems a certainty. Shardul Thakur’s all-round skills strengthen his case, with the toss-up for the rest revolving around Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Siraj.

Yuzvendra Chahal is expected to reclaim his spot as India’s wicket-taking enforcer, with Ravichandran Ashwin primed to return to ODI cricket after a significant absence.

South Africa, on the other hand, have a few more selection puzzles to solve. Thankfully for them, Quinton de Kock returns at the top of the order and should form a decent nexus alongside skipper Temba Bavuma. Rassie van der Dussen is also an excellent white-ball player, with Aiden Markram also looking in fine fettle.

The biggest positive, though, would be the return of Janneman Malan – a batter who has taken international cricket by storm. There has been some skepticism around his record, suggesting that he hasn’t really played nicely enough against tough opposition but that could change with a stellar outing against the mighty Indians.

On the bowling front, they continue to miss Anrich Nortje. But with Kagiso Rabada and Marco Jansen firing on all cylinders, and Tabraiz Shamsi longing to leave an imprint on the home summer, they might not fret over it too much.

Thus, as things stand, this series, at least on paper, seems a lot more balanced than the Test rubber where India were clear favourites. Though it would still be hard to argue against the visitors as frontrunners, there is just enough in the format and the South African ranks to accord them more of a chance.

If that ends up being the decisive factor is anyone’s guess. But after everything that has gone down in the Test series, both on and off the field, this is certainly a rendition you would not want to miss out on!
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