When India square off against South Africa in the second Test of the Freedom Series from Saturday, expect there to be major shakeups.
After The Proteas on Monday took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, beating India by 72 runs in the first Test at Newlands, a lot of questions were asked of the Indian team selection. Something that is going to be asked for long time to come especially when this looked the perfect opportunity to create history and break a 25-year winless streak.
The second Test is going to be played on one of the liveliest wickets in South Africa at SuperSport Park in Centurion, and Team India need to be absolutely certain about their team selection if they want this Test to last the distance.
Avg 1st inn score: 334
Avg 2nd inn score: 324
Avg 3rd inn score: 240
Avg 4th inn score: 154
Highest Total: 620/4 (130.1 Ov) by RSA vs Ind
Lowest Total: 101/10 (34.4 Ov) by Eng vs RSA
Highest Chased: 251/8 (75.1 Ov) by Eng vs RSA
Lowest Defended: 120/10 (36 Ov) by NZ vs RSA
Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, Parthiv Patel and Ishant Sharma did not play the first Test and it was a decision that would come back to bite Virat Kohli and the think tank. Dropping Test specialist Rahane for shorter version stars Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, both players not in the best form, prompted Kohli, after the loss, to defend his team selection saying that the playing XI were picked based on players’ current form.
So who among the ‘non-playing four’ can make it to Centurion on Saturday?
India got it terribly wrong in the first Test – Benching Rahul to open with Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay; benching Ajinkya Rahane at No. 5 and opting for Rohit Sharma; and not roping in the tall Ishant Sharma to take advantage of the Newlands wicket. According to The Times of India, Karnataka opener Lokesh Rahul will return to the playing eleven.
Ajinkya Rahane could also replace Rohit at No.5, since Pandya’s place in the team is cemented. Considering Centurion would have a lively track, the all-rounder spot is sealed. Ashwin sitting out for Rahane can also be a possibility since spinners might not have a role in the second Test. Rahane, scored close to 300 runs in the last seven Test matches, including a 132 in Sri Lanka in August last year. There is also the case of Ishant Sharma, someone that experts before the tour began had backed as the bowler that would trouble the South Africans the most. Sharma can let rip a a new ball and his height complements the South African pitches.
On the other hand, bad news for South Africa
South Africa’s most feared fast bowler, the talismanic Dale Steyn was ruled out of the series after injuring his left heel during the first Test. Seamers Duanne Olivier and Lungi Ngidi have been drafted in to the squad for the second Test and coach Ottis Gibson has said he is happy with four fast bowlers in his team against India and has hinted at continuing with the same strategy in the second Test. After the team’s 72-run win in the opening Test at Cape Town, which was effectively achieved inside three days with a four-pronged pace pack, Gibson indicated that the team composition will not change in the remainder of the rubber.
Steyn was missed in the fourth innings of the first Test when they needed to restrict India under 207 to win the match. That is when Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel came to the party and bowled out India within two sessions for 135. Philander returning with career-best 6 for 42 while Rabada and Morkel took two wickets each.
What the Indian’s need to focus on…
…is decoding Philander’s seam movement, Morkel’s short balls and Rabada’s swinging deliveries in the next two days. The two relatively new recruits, Duanne Olivier and Lungi Ngidi – one who made his debut last year and the other uncapped – could be the X-factor come Saturday. Olivier has played five Tests since making his debut against Sri Lanka at Johannesburg in January last year and has picked up 17 wickets at an average of 23.11 and a strike rate of 35.6.
Ngidi, 21, is uncapped at Test level but has played three Twenty20 internationals and is regarded as one of the finest up-and-coming fast bowling talents in South Africa.
The Pitch and What to Expect
Originally named Centurion Park, SuperSport Park is known for being one of the quicker pitches in South Africa. It also gives plenty of opportunity to batsmen, with the ball generally coming onto the bat. It has never been seen as a spinners paradise. The outfield is level, lush and fast with a drainage system on par with any in the world.
Ahead of the first Test at the Newlands in Cape Town on January 5, Cricket South Africa (CSA) made last minute efforts, flying in SuperSport Park curator Bryan Bloy from Centurion to assist Newlands curator Evan Flint in preparing the wicket. The reputation of the pitch is credited to the man behind it, and that is their chief curator, Bloy.
While Newlands suited home boy Vernon Philander, Centurion’s bounce will be to the liking of local pacer Morne Morkel. While playing for the Titans — the star-studded champion side that also has AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis — the 6’ 5” Morkel has been more than a handful for batsmen on South Africa’s domestic circuit.
Expect a fiery second Test!
Who is your Super 8?