India must make bat, ball do the talking

Match details

SuperSport Park, Centurion
January 13 to 17, 13:30 IST
Live on Sony Ten 1 HD, Ten 1 (English), and on Sony Ten 3 HD, Ten 3 (Hindi)

The main picture

India losing the first Test of an overseas Test series is hardly an unfamiliar sight. And if you remember correctly, they have tended to not play badly either.

On the 2013/14 tour of South Africa, MS Dhoni’s India had put themselves in a winning position at the end of the third innings. However, set a target of 458, South Africa, courtesy a stupendous 205-run partnership for the fifth wicket between AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, had a great opportunity to make history deep into the fifth day at the Wanderers. But losing three wickets in quick succession made them choose to settle for a draw. The Wellington Test in 2014 is another example of India squandering a great opportunity to win the first Test of an overseas tour.

As helpful as the Cape Town pitch was for the seamers, who picked up 37 of the 40 wickets, the Indian batsmen, in both the innings, let themselves down by their poor defensive technique. Even the Murali Vijays and Cheteshwar Pujaras, who you expect to be aware of where their off-stump is, played well away from their bodies to be caught behind. And the more flamboyant Kohli, Dhawan and Rohit Sharma didn’t come to the team’s rescue in either innings.

Having been in the country for a fortnight now and also played in testing conditions, the Indian batsmen and the bowlers too, ought to be better prepared for the second Test in Centurion. India are expected to make changes to their playing XI from the first Test, with the batting line-up obviously needing reinforcements. With Hardik Pandya having come good as an all-rounder, the team management has a tough selection call to make. India know the keys to winning Test matches in South Africa and, therefore, this is the time to make the bat and ball do the talking.

Amid testing conditions for batsmen, the South African batsmen made the telling difference in the first Test by making a score close to 300 in the first innings. Of course, the bowlers bowling India out for 209 helped stamp the authority. Going into the Centurion Test, South Africa have reasons to be confident of taking an unassailable lead in this Test series: by winning in Cape Town, they have managed to quieten India and dealt a psychological blow, and their batsmen have greater nous of the conditions in the highveld and the SuperSport Park pitch. Dale Steyn’s absence due to a bruised left heel is unfortunate for the player and his team, but the Proteas have enough options at their disposal to remain a formidable bowling attack.

The venue for the second Test is a fortress for South Africa, who have won 17 of the 22 Tests, losing two and drawing three. India have lost the only Test they have played here, in 2010. You can expect to see a pitch which aids fast bowlers at least on the first couple of days, while the ground is smaller compared to the PPC Newlands, meaning the rate of scoring is likely to be high. According to the weather forecast, the Centurion Test match is unlikely to be hampered by weather.

Recent form

SA: WWWWL (from left to right, last five Tests)
IND: LDWDW

2nd Test: India vs South Africa playing 11

South Africa will be forced to make a change to their XI from the first Test. Duanne Olivier and Lungi Ngidi have been added to the squad, but neither is likely to replace the injured Steyn. Chris Morris, the fast bowling all-rounder, might well come in as Steyn’s replacement, with Ottis Gibson reiterating his preference for a four-man pace attack.

Likely South Africa playing XI: 1 Faf du Plessis (c), 2 Dean Elgar, 3 Aiden Markram, 4 Hashim Amla, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 Chris Morris, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Keshav Maharaj, and 11 Morne Morkel

India made a couple of bold selection calls, with only one (Jasprit Bumrah) paying off. With the batting line-up needing reinforcement, Bumrah might actually be the one who is sacrificed. Ajinkya Rahane is likely to return to the playing XI after being dropped for the first Test and bat at No, 5, with Rohit Sharma dropping a position down. Shikhar Dhawan may keep his place for one more Test match.

Possible India playing 11 for the second Test: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Shikhar Dhawan, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and 11 Mohammed Shami

Match prediction

India simply need their batsmen to come good, apply themselves better and occupy the crease for longer periods. To win Test matches, you cannot keep collapsing to 7 for 80 or similar, so avoiding batting collapses has to be the highest on the list of priorities. And in the potential absence of a third frontline seamer, Bhuvneshwar and Shami must be prepared to bowl long spells and carry a threat throughout. Which also means that Hardik Pandya’s role with the ball becomes more significant. Under Kohli’s captaincy, India have never lost back to back Test matches and they face a tremendous challenge to retain that record. South Africa, after the manner of their victory in Cape Town, will start as favourites.

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