SA vs Ind – Virat Kohli returns from South Africa to return for first Test – Rudraaj Gaekwad dropped

Rudraaj Gaekwad has been ruled out of the two-Test series due to injury, with Abhimanyu Easwaran asked to remain on standby.

Shashank Kishore

Virat Kohli did not participate in the three-day match between the Indian team ahead of the first Test match. AFP/Getty Images

Virat Kohli has returned home from South Africa for personal reasons but will rejoin the Test squad ahead of the Boxing Day Test at Centurion. Kohli was ruled out of India’s three-day intra-squad match, the only red-ball outing for several senior players including captain Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah ahead of the two-Test series.

Ruduraj Gaekwad has been ruled out of the two-Test series due to a finger injury. Abhimanyu Iswaran, who is currently part of the India A team that is on a shadow tour of South Africa, has been announced as the reserve opener in place of Gaikwad. Rohit and Yashaswi Jaiswal are likely to continue their partnership at the top of the order, as they did in July-August in the Caribbean in India’s most recent Test match.

Abhimanyu scored an unbeaten 61 on the second day of the practice match in Pretoria before he was retired by the team management. As things stand, Abhimanyu is likely to feature for India A in the second four-day game against South Africa A starting December 26, barring any last-minute changes. He will then join the national team ahead of the New Year’s Test in Cape Town.

Gaekwad is expected to return home and attend the BCCI’s National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru. He injured his right ring finger while fielding during the second ODI against South Africa. In his absence, India introduced Rajat Patidar in the series-deciding final ODI at Parl, which India won.

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The Indian Test team has been preparing for the last four days in Pretoria under Rahul Dravid’s coaching team. India captain KL Rahul and Mukesh Kumar are expected to join the Test squad after a day’s rest following the ODI series. Shreyas Iyer, who was part of the ODI mix, was released from the squad after the first ODI to prepare for the Test matches.

Iyer and Rahul return to Test cricket after a long break. The duo last featured for India during the Border-Gavaskar domestic series against Australia in February. Rahul, who started the series as an opener, lost his place after the second Test. He missed the subsequent WTC final and the Caribbean tour due to a hamstring injury. He is likely to take up wicket-keeping duties in Test matches. Iyer too has not played a first-class game since March, following a steady diet of ODI cricket following his return from back surgery.

The upcoming series is India’s second mission in the new WTC cycle for 2023-25. After winning the first Test in the Caribbean, they were denied a chance by rain in the second.

Shashank Kishore is Senior Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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