Beleaguered India brace for biggest Test

Match details

Wanderers, Johannesburg
January 24 to 28, 13:30 IST
Live on Sony Ten 1 HD, Ten 1 (English), and on Sony Ten 3 HD, Ten 3 (Hindi)

The main picture

Watching Virat Kohli be grumpy at the press conference after the loss in Centurion, you can make out that he has failed where he least wanted to. He had been a serial winner as Indian captain until this series, but the tour of South Africa, needless to say, was always going to be India’s and Kohli’s toughest test. And then, in my opinion, India, rather than understating the stage they were in, just invited pressure onto themselves by talking up the bowling attack’s ability to take 20 wickets and the prevailing confidence within the squad. Though Kohli’s confidence made sense, he didn’t have to go into the details one bit. Since then, the errors have accumulated both from the team management and the batting line-up, in particular, and the Kohli-led India suddenly are in uncharted territory.

The Test series has been lost and India are staring at a whitewash, something which no Indian team has suffered on the previous six tours of South Africa. And, as much as the Kohli-led team say that the perception outside doesn’t bother them, inwardly, they will badly be wanting to prove people wrong. Which can happen only if India win at the Wanderers. And to win, India have to make a massive step-up from the Centurion Test, starting with the team selection to the batsmen making runs and supporting the bowlers, who then have to continue the good work they have been doing. What also makes this challenge harder is the state of mind the team is in.

South Africa, as their captain Faf du Plessis has said, have a ‘score to settle’ and a 3-0 series scoreline will help the Proteas settle scores after losing the four-Test series in India back in November 2015 by the same margin. The host’s selection decisions have worked a treat, with Lungi Ngidi being a perfect example, and their batsmen, in particular, have made the telling difference by fighting their way through difficult phases and thereby putting their team on top. Unlike India, the settled nature of the South African XI will help them in their question to whitewash India.

The news from Johannesburg is that the pitch is sporting a lot of grass and is likely to be more South African than sub-continental. The Proteas have a 15-11 win-loss record in 37 Tests at the Wanderers Stadium and, guess what, never beaten India in four Test matches; India have won one (2006) and drawn three here. Showers and thunderstorms are predicted on all five days of the Test match.

Recent form

SA: WWWWW (from left to right, most recent first)

India vs South Africa 3rd Test playing XI

India’s playing 11 is likely to be different, once again, from the previous Test, with potentially a specialist batsman being included in place of Hardik Pandya, an all-rounder. And with the pitch expected to aid the swing and seam bowlers and should Kohli’s logic prevail, Bhuvneshwar Kumar may return as well, in place of Ishant Sharma, who replaced him in the XI for the second Test at SuperSport Park. Parthiv Patel might retain his place in the playing XI for the third Test despite a poor showing with the gloves in Centurion.

Possible India playing 11 for the second Test: 1 Virat Kohli (c), 2 Murali Vijay, 3 Lokesh Rahul, 4 Cheteshwar Pujara, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Parthiv Patel (wk), 8 Ravichandran Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, and 11 Mohammed Shami

South Africa are unlikely to alter their playing XI. They might just contemplate playing Theunis de Bruyn for Keshav Maharaj if the pitch remains green on the eve of the Test match.

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 Vernon Philander, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Lungi Ngidi, and 11 Morne Morkel


The good thing about this Test match despite it being a dead rubber is that both teams want to win and take the confidence and momentum into the ODI series, which gets underway just three days after the conclusion of the Test series (February 1). India obviously ought to bat a whole lot better to give themselves a chance, but also, given how South Africa have played, they will start this Test as an outright favourite. Likewise, India should be happy as long as they avoid defeat.

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