South Africa’s 203-run loss in the first Test in Visakhapatnam made clear that perhaps one of the most difficult things in Test cricket today is to beat India in India. South Africa had a good tilt at it, much better than anything they managed when they came to these shores in 2015. Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock scored centuries, and India were frustrated as South Africa refused to lie down and roll over. But that’s as good as it got.
South Africa still lost the Test by a heavy margin, within two sessions of the final day, and in that lies the scale of the task they face in saving this series when they clash in Pune, starting on Thursday, October 10.
And first and foremost, South Africa need to get their selection right – that might mean Dane Piedt being dropped for one of Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje. Pace clearly is South Africa’s strength, and on a surface that wasn’t all-out spin-friendly, Piedt’s drop won’t prove as costly, with Keshav Maharaj and S Muthusamy taking on the bulk of wicket-taking responsibility.
As far as India are concerned, it’s business as usual. Their experiment with Rohit Sharma at the top paid dividends with his twin centuries, and the focus now will be on whether he can sustain that level of playing consistently. R Ashwin did what he does best, on Indian conditions, and there was Mohammed Shami’s five-wicket burst on the final day offering another dimension.
The only question mark for India will surround the Pune pitch. In their only Test at the venue previously, they failed, losing to Australia by 333 runs after being bundled out for 105 and 107 on a pitch that was a rated poor. A lot of the focus will be on that.
Head to head
There have been 37 Tests played between India and South Africa since 1992. India have the poorer record, losing 15 of those matches. However, they have a better return at home, with nine wins in 17, and three draws. That record is only expected to get better.
Mayank Agarwal (India): Rohit Sharma may have taken the limelight in Visakhapatnam, but equally impressive was the performance of Agarwal. He converted his maiden Test century into a double, and showed enough in terms of both technique and temperament to suggest he is in the position for the long haul. He will need to keep churning out the performances, though, in more difficult conditions.
Kagiso Rabada (South Africa): What Shami did on a final day pitch in Visakhapatnam wouldn’t have gone unnoticed by Rabada. South Africa’s pace ace had a poor Test, taking one wicket in the whole Test for 107 runs. Rabada was fairly toothless at times, and this wasn’t what was expected of one of the most lethal bowlers in the game at the moment. More of what Shami did is expected from Rabada.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, G Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Thenuis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), S Muthusamy, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada
India won’t want Pune to turn into a voodoo pitch. They’ll make it 2-0.