In Pune, the Indian team went onto to win a record 11th consecutive Test series at home while on the other hand, South Africa succumbed to their fourth Test defeat in succession. It was also the sixth successive defeat on Asian soil for the Proteas.
If South Africa gained any confidence post their impressive batting performance in Visakhapatnam by posting 431 runs in the first innings on the back of hundreds from Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock, they were crushed in Pune. “This Test match, we were not even close to where we needed to be to try and compete”, said skipper, Faf du Plessis after the Pune debacle.
South Africa have lost three of their last four series, all of them coming against Asian countries. It included five Test defeats on the bounce against Sri Lanka, home and away, and the two defeats in the ongoing series against India. This only highlights the incompetence of South African batsmen against spin.
In Asian conditions in a similar time frame, their average drops down to 17 runs per wicket, sliding below teams like West Indies (19.6), Ireland (21.9) and Zimbabwe (23.3). India’s spin duo of Ravis - Ashwin and Jadeja - are too good not to exploit opponents’ weakness against the turning ball.
Since the hundreds from de Kock and Elgar in their first innings of the series, South Africa have managed only one half-century from their top six batsmen in the following three innings - du Plessis’ 64 in the first innings of the Pune Test. The newbies, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma and Aiden Markram have not been able to play any innings of substance. As a result, du Plessis had to promote himself to number four when the Proteas were following-on in Pune.
But that is just one half of the problem. South Africa’s bowling attack has given more headaches to their skipper, du Plessis, rather than the opposition batsmen. An old cricketing adage suggests a side need to pick 20 wickets to win a Test. South Africa are yet to pick 20 wickets in the series after the conclusion of two Tests. Stats suggest the Protean bowling attack has never seemed so deflated since the dawn of this decade.
Kagiso Rabada, the leader of South Africa’s pace attack acknowledged it saying, “I don’t know if we can be put under more pressure than that”. The pressure has mounted specifically on the South African pacers given the contrasting performance they have delivered in contrast to their Indian counterparts.
Rabada picked up three wickets on the opening day of the second Test but did not find any support as he was the only bowler to inflict any harm on the opposition. Anrich Nortje showed a big heart but went wicketless on his Test debut. The veteran, Vernon Philander, who demanded the seniors to step up during this series has picked up only two wickets. A bowling average of 38 in Asia seems highly unimpressive for Philander in comparison to that of 19 in Africa, 23.5 in Europe and 25.9 in Oceania. In case Lungi Ngidi is fit, South Africa can ponder the thought of replacing Philander with him.
As a bowling unit, South Africa’s toughest task would be to break through India’s impregnable top order. The Indian openers have notched up nine hundreds in the 12 innings of the last eight Tests which India have played at home. Four of them belong to the current opening pair of Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma. Number three, Cheteshwar Pujara may have only one hundred but averages 51.3. Skipper, Virat Kohli has five hundreds despite missing the match against Afghanistan. Three of them are double hundreds. The top four have contributed to 69 percent of India’s runs at home in their last eight Tests.
India: With the series in the bag, the Indian team may look to make some changes. Any changes in the batting order, however, looks improbable. But in the bowling line-up, India can field a three-man spin attack. Kuldeep Yadav had a case to be welcomed back in the Test XI but a complaint of shoulder pain from the chinaman has brought the uncapped Shahbaz Nadeem into the squad. Ishant Sharma, the senior most cricketer in the current Indian Test side, can make way for any of those two given his unfruitful results in the first two Tests (two wickets at an average of 62.5) and a par record in Indian conditions.
Probable XI: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma/Kuldeep Yadav/Shahbaz Nadeem
South Africa: The visitors have suffered a couple of injury blows in their camp. The alarming one of which is Keshav Maharaj’s shoulder strain. The left-armer’s bowling figures in this series may read 3 for 189, 2 for 129 and 1 for 196 but Maharaj has been a workhorse on a tough tour for his side, having bowled the most for the Proteas. He has also been the second highest wicket-taker for South Africa since his debut and recently became one of only five South African spinners to bag 100 Test wickets. George Linde might replace him in the XI which will be his Test debut if it does happen.
The other injury is that of the woefully out-of-form, Aiden Markram, who fractured his wrist while taking out his frustration of an unproductive tour on a solid object. The 24-year old, Zubayr Hamza is certain to replace him in the XI.
Probable XI: Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Senuran Muthusamy, George Linde, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi/Vernon Philander, Anrich Nortje