The matador, nicknamed “beefy” or “lord Thakur” in social media, entered the bull ring to conquer seven big fat bulls. From the Gabba game in 2021 to the Wanderers in 2022, the performance graph for Shardul Thakur hasn’t seen a decline. In fact, it keeps on rising. Despite India conceding a lead of 27, Thakur’s performance on day two was off the highest caliber. His spell of 7/61 on day two at the Wanderers was the best for Asian bowler in the country. To add more, he is the only Asian pacer to bag a seven-for in an innings in South Africa.
Thanks to his memorable spell, India have somewhat neutralised their first innings batting failure conceding a lead of 27 after posting 202. However, the wheels are still turning in this match. India need to bat their lives out to post a target of at least over 200. Both openers, who have been scoring runs, are back in the hut. But, the senior pros, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have steadied the ship with their careers hanging on a thin line.
Here comes the good part! Despite poor records in recent times, both of them have come out with an attacking instinct. This means, they are not worried about what lies ahead for them, even if they fail. Pujara in precise has scored at a strike rate of 83.3 for his unbeaten 35.
The number three batsman has a fond memory of the Wanderers. In 2013, coming into bat early in the third innings, Pujara scored 153 in similar conditions. India would be hoping for a similar kind of performance from the stalwart. More than India, Pujara himself in dire need of runs, could revive his career if he manages to replicate the performance. To his glory, in Tests since December 2020, Pujara has the tendency of performing well in the second innings, especially in away matches. In the aforementioned time, Pujara averages 45.7 in the second innings as compared to 14.9 in the first.
Rahane on the other hand, loves the company of Pujara in the second innings. In away Tests since December 2020, Rahane and Pujara partnership averages 43.4. Whereas, with Rishabh Pant alongside, their partnership averages only 13.3. These two batsmen had put on a 100-run partnership at the Lord’s in 2021 to bail out India.
A Target of 200+ - An absolute necessity
India after cutting down the deficit of 27, are leading by 58 runs with eight wickets in hand. In all possibilities, India are in a fairly comfortable position. But, India has a history of muddling up the game from a position of authority.
India, on day three, need to score at least 150 runs more to give themselves a chance to create history. Historically, no team has defended a target of less than 200 at the Wanderers. The lowest target successfully defended in the fourth innings at the Wanderers was 204 by England in 1956. In recent times, India in their last outing in 2018 at the Wanderers, defended 241, which is the lowest of this century. In 27 outings where teams have posted 200+ targets in the fourth innings, only thrice has a team won at Wanderers. Overall, out of the 31 Tests in which it has gone to the fourth innings, only seven times a team has successfully chased at the Wanderers.
Let alone at the Wanderers, In Tests since 2018, India have set a target in the fourth innings 17 times. Out of which, in the four times they have set a target of less than 200, they have lost all matches. In the remaining 13 matches, they have won 12 of those. Just to emboss more, nine of those 12 have been in away conditions.
On the other hand, in Tests since 2018, South Africa have never chased a target of 200+. In the 13 times they have chased, the target of 149 that they chased against Pakistan in 2018 at SuperSport Park is their highest. In nine Tests where they were set a target of 200+, they have lost all.
First session syndrome
The first session malady that has plagued India in recent times has been one of the hottest topics of discussion. In the first Test as well, India lost seven wickets in the first session of day three – due to a full washout on the second day – for just 55 runs. In away Tests since 2020, India have lost 101 wickets in the first session at a balls/dismissal ratio of 47.5 and 19.9 average, the worst across all sessions.
With two of the most experienced batsmen, Pujara and Rahane at the crease, India will be hoping to nullify their biggest worry and march forward towards a historic win.