After a short regroup following the Vizag Test, India and South Africa will reassemble at Pune to resume their battle for the No.1 ICC ranking, which, by the way, is still at stake. Should South Africa beat India in back to back Tests and win the series, they will usurp the hosts as the No.1 ranked side. But, that is a huge IF considering how visiting teams have performed in the country in the last decade. It has taken herculean team efforts to beat Indian in India and that is exactly what South Africa would seek from its players.
At Vizag, they were aided by sparks of brilliance from a few individuals. But to beat India they will need a team effort and Faf du Plessis would know that. On the pace front, at least, South Africa will be intent on righting their wrongs from Vizag. Notably, they were superb with the new ball on day one but failed to generate breakthroughs and it is this they will want to correct at Pune.
India, on the other hand, has few worries. The batting group is settled, the spinners did their job and with Mohammed Shami also stepping up in the first Test, there really isn’t much India to need to specifically worry about. That said, the Pune surface could be a potential discussion topic in one of those drawing board discussions.
Against quality spinners on turners, Indian batting has occasionally appeared inadequate, and this will prevent them from being complacent. South Africa, unlike before, has a quality spinner in Keshav Maharaj. India’s think-tank will be intent on carrying on their commanding performance, and with the kind of resources at their disposal, it will come as a surprise if they do manage to find themselves in a tricky position.
All said and done, another important factor that could affect the Test is the toss. Since 2013, no visiting side has managed to win while fielding first in India. So South Africa might actually be excused for their struggle at Vizag. If the toss does go against the hosts, we might see a very interesting Test match at Pune.
Venue: Pune has hosted a Test match just once before but it remains an iconic test match in the country in the last decade. A loss for the hosts has been rare in India in the last decade but at Pune in 2017, Steven O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon out-spun the Indian spinners and Steven Smith produced a second innings masterclass to win against India. The wicket is expected to turn, and perhaps even more, prompted by South Africa’s debacle in the second innings at Vizag.
The one question India will have is whether to play Kuldeep Yadav. A third spinner might appear an overkill, especially with Hanuma Vihari available as a part-time spinner, but when Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock went about their knocks in Vizag, India really seemed to lack an x-factor. In Kuldeep they have precisely that, and with the kind of batting length they have, it might not be a stretch to assume that India could bench Vihari or Rahane for Kuldeep here at Pune.
Probable XI: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
A lot of things got clearer at Vizag for the Proteas. Dane Piedt’s no-show and Senuran Muthusamy’s resistance with the bat and reasonably tidy bowling should tilt the scales in favour of the left-arm spinner. They surely need to strengthen their batting, and Piedt should make way for Zubayr Hamza, among the most talented young batsmen in the country. Though Vernon Philander appeared largely ineffective post his new ball spells, South Africa have been reluctant to bench him in the past and he might play over Lungi Ngidi although the probability of a straight swap cannot be entirely ruled out. It is also possible that Ngidi comes in place of Piedt.
Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis, Zubayr Hamza, Quinton de Kock, Senuran Muthusamy, Vernon Philander/Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj
Ravichandran Ashwin vs Dean Elgar
Ashwin has dismissed Elgar five times in Test cricket but at Vizag, the South African opener was a picture of confidence against the off-spinner. Hitting him through the line and over the top of mid-on and mid-off proved to be highly effective for Elgar. To repeat his heroics against a spinner of the quality of Ashwin would take some doing. Round two between these two should make way for a mouth-watering contest.
Ravindra Jadeja vs Aiden Markram
Markram is earmarked as South Africa’s future star but for now at least, his form has largely been restricted to within South African soil. An average of 48.81 at home is overshadowed by the negative impact of an average of 14 away from home. Markram’s Achilles heel has been the ball turning away from him. In Sri Lanka last year, Rangana Herath accounted for him all four times. In the ODIs on that tour, Akila Dananjaya dismissed him thrice in three outings, all with balls turning away from him. At Vizag, Ashwin and Jadeja dismissed him in either innings and South Africa will hope for Markram to replicate his performances from the warm-up games, where he scored two tons.
Cover Image: Sandipan Banerjee