“A lot of big names have played for 20 years, they have come here many times, and they have never done it. But this team has done that. This team is used to doing things that a lot of other teams haven’t done, and that too overseas.”
This is a slightly abridged version of a quote from India coach Ravi Shastri in Sri Lanka last year. He was talking about India winning the three-Test series 3-0.
There is a real threat that it could be adapted for use in the current climate. Many weak Indian teams have come to South Africa since the first tour in 1992-93, and none has been whitewashed. This “strong” team, with so many options that the team management has admitted to the inevitability of highly debatable, even controversial, selections, now needs something special to avoid a whitewash. If there is any consolation, they are making this attempt at a venue that should inspire them: the Wanderers is where they won a World T20 final and also brought up their first Test win in this country. India have played four Tests at this venue, and have never lost.
The series is gone, but neither side is seeing this as a dead rubber. Not only is it a matter of pride for India to avoid a whitewash, it is also about bragging rights in a world where it is the mark of a good side to lose less poorly away from home. South Africa, still smarting from the ambush in India in 2015-16, which ended their nine-year run of never losing a series away from home, are in no danger of treating this as a dead rubber either.
The hosts not only want to avenge their defeat in India with an identical scoreline, but also want to close in on the No. 1 ranking, which will be only a few decimal points away from them should they win on the green Wanderers pitch. The weather has been overcast in the lead-up to the Test, and there has been more than a bit of rain forecast, so this should be a difficult Test for batting, in conditions where both sides could choose to go without a spinner.
India see the green pitch as an opportunity. It brings their seam bowlers into the game, and if their batsman can do something special – which they have been waiting for since the start of the series – they feel they can come close to winning a Test.
South Africa WWWWW (last five completed games most recent first)
In the spotlight
One way to look at this series is to say the batting of AB de Villiers has been the difference between the two sides. He has dragged South Africa out of crisis on two occasions, and has contributed 35 and 20 on the other two. He has also been superb in the slips and wherever he has been posted in the outfield. India will be tempted to imagine what it feels like to get him out of the way, but to do that in reality they will need to work harder.
The only man certain to play for India, and hence in the spotlight, is Virat Kohli. He scored a superlative 153 in the last Test, but that wasn’t enough to prevent his first series loss as captain. Between the Tests, questions have been raised about his leadership. Kohli needs to replicate some of that batting form, and also to select properly and motivate his side out of this mire. The test of his captaincy is only just beginning.
There has been talk that South Africa might go without a spinner – as they have done in their two previous Tests at the Wanderers – and beef up their batting, but the injury to Temba Bavuma might have changed the equation a little bit. If Keshav Maharaj is indeed left out, it could open the door for batsman Theunis de Bruyn or allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo. Chris Morris is away on paternity leave. Aiden Markram, who was off the field for parts of the Centurion Test with a left quad strain, is fit and will open.
South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 Theunis de Bruyn/Andile Phehlukwayo/Keshav Maharaj, 8 Vernon Philander, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Indications are that Ajinkya Rahane and Bhuvneshwar Kumar seem set to make their way back into the side, but at whose expense? The men under threat are Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin (because of the pitch) and one out of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Don’t count against an all-seam attack. Parthiv Patel, ordinary with the big gloves in Centurion, could lose out to Dinesh Karthik, who doesn’t have too much long-format match practice behind him: he only played four first-class matches in the 2017-18 domestic season, and only kept wicket in two of them .
India (probable): 1 and 2 Two out of M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 3, 5 and 6 three out of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, 7 Parthiv Patel/Dinesh Karthik (wk), 8 to 11 four out of R Ashwin, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at Wanderers is unmistakably green. The head groudsman Bethuel Buthulezi might be tempted to not shave any of the 6mm grass because there is rain expected on every day of the Test. The sun has beaten down in the lead-up to the Test to create some cracks, but it has also helped the groundstaff roll the pitch nice and hard. Faf du Plessis said his side didn’t ask for anything over the top but a track with pace and bounce. Kohli expected the pitch to do more than the one at Newlands for the first Test. There are some cracks on offer, but it is possible overhead conditions will play an equally important role in this Test.
Stats and Trivia
Hashim Amla is one catch short of becoming the fourth South African to 100 catches as a fielder, joining Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers. Amla will be the slowest to the mark.
Contrary to reputation, the Wanderers has historically not been a graveyard for spinners. Among venues that have hosted at least 20 Tests, spinners have worse averages in 15 grounds than their 35.76 at the Wanderers. Those 15 grounds include Lahore, Port of Spain and Adelaide.
Apart from Virat Kohli’s 153 in the first innings in Centurion, India’s specialist batsmen haven’t scored a single fifty in this series. The top six batsmen have averaged 20.45 – their third-worst in any series of two or more Tests. If Kohli’s 153 is discounted, the average of the 23 innings played by the top six drops to 14.08.
Rohit Sharma’s difference of 60.09 between home and away averages is the worst for India batsmen who have scored a minimum of 500 runs each home and away
“They’ve played some good cricket here. The last Test match we played against India here was a fantastic Test match. Their bowing is good. They’ve come this time around with a very good seam attack and if you have that you will be able to compete. We have got a fantastic seam attack as well so it will be the battle between those two. The pressure is in making sure we keep their batsmen under pressure. It’s been a pretty quiet series for most of them and if we can keep doing that, we will change that stat.”
Faf du Plessis hopes to consign India to their first defeat at the Wanderers
“As a team we are looking to correct all the mistakes that have happened, Wanderers has been a special venue for us, hopefully we can play the same kind of cricket.”Virat Kohli looks to the past for inspiration