Two years ago in India, South Africa witnessed not only the end of their proud unbeaten record on foreign soils but also experienced their worst ever defeat against a subcontinental team by 0-3. While the experts didn’t give it much thought due to the quality of the pitch which was on offer in the series but South Africa were hurt badly.
They were eagerly waiting for this India tour. While Cricket is not a game of boxing to payback but big teams and big players have a sharp memory. In the first test at Newlands, India had a decent opportunity to start the series with a victory as South Africa produced one of the spiciest pitches which was sure to favour a good Indian pace attack. However, considering the superiority of Proteas pace battery, South Africa were also confident of their chances which proved right in the end as they beat both rain and Indian batting to take a 1-0 lead and even square up for Mohali and Bangalore in one go.
Team India might be disappointed as they lost a golden opportunity to get a vital lead in the series due to some spineless top order batting but it will be crucial for their top guns like of Vijay, Kohli and Pujara to show some guts. They might also be thinking to boost up their batting which was exposed in both the innings by adding the expertise of Ajinkya Rahane in place of Rohit Sharma or Ashwin.
The opener averages 53 in away games and his technique and presence was dearly felt at Newlands. On the other hand, Shikar Dhawan was found wanting in both the innings and might be replaced with young KL Rahul. Although Dhawan is only 32 and there might be good 3-4 years of international cricket still left in him but considering his vulnerability in these conditions, India might be tempted to go with young Rahul.
Whoever is selected in the playing XI, India has to perform this time on what is expected to be another lively pitch at Supersport Park, Centurion. This might test not only their skills but also their mental strength.
On the other hand, despite a comfortable victory in the first test, South Africa will have to uplift their batting stocks quickly. The way Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla failed in both the innings put immense pressure on the middle order which was already short of one batsman.
The injury to Dale Steyn will be the only change that Proteas might be looking at and if they opt for an allrounder, either Andile Phelukwayo or Chris Morris might get a go. Otherwise, Temba Bavuma might get a peek in at no. 6. The hosts will dearly like to Hashim Amla to get going. Till 2014-15, he had been Mr Consistent scoring 6757 runs at an average of 52.78 in 82 Tests.
Since World Cup 2015, Amla has scored 1833 runs in 29 tests at an average of only 39, and that becomes even worse if you remove his recent figures against Bangladesh. A long stretch of inconsistency might show Amla is nearing the end of an excellent career but before that he would want to notch some wins against big boys.
The pitch at Supersport Park, Centurion, is expected to be another lively surface as the groundsman Brayan Bloy said that South African team management asked them to prepare a track with a lot of bounce and movement. He Further said that we aim to prepare a surface that has something in it for the bowlers in the morning before getting a little more batsman-friendly. Due to the heat, the pitch will also wear away a bit on the fourth and fifth day,” Bloy said, before adding: “But it will a quick surface with bounce and a little sideways movement.”
Date: 13-17 January 2018
Venue: Supersport Park, Centurion
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, Ab Devilliers, Faf Du Plessis, Quinton De Cock, Andile Phelukwayo/ChrisMorris, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada
India: KL Rahul, Murli Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin/Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Mohammad Shami, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah