The result in the first Test means India continue to wait for their first Test series win in South Africa. The best they can do now is level the series.
Arriving in Newlands, Cape Town, a venue where they have never won a Test match in six attempts (four defeats, two draws), they have several questions to answer. In Centurion, their batting folded twice within 376 runs and 102 overs. In the second innings, facing a deficit of 163 runs, India were bowled out for 131, On Day 3 to finish in a Test where only 59 overs were possible on Day 1.
Moreover, their bowling has now cost them three Test matches on a bounce in South Africa. Barring Jasprit Bumrah, no bowler could sustain pressure on the Protea batters. Ravindra Jadeja’s return will instill some faith in batting but India’s bowling combination will be the one to keep an eye on with Shardul Thakur’s inconsistent returns with the ball. Will India continue to back his batting contributions, even if they come at the cost of the quality in the pace attack?
South Africa have one hand on another home series trophy and are on the course of giving Dean Elgar the perfect farewell. Beginning his last series with a hundred, Elgar has fortunes in his own hands as he will lead the side in his last Test, in Temba Bavuma’s absence.
Bavuma and Gerald Coetzee’s unavailability due to injuries, South Africa also have a couple of questions with their combination but none as ominous as the ones the Indian team is looking at.
Things to Watch out for
Too stern a test for the batting transition?
The inexperience was one of the caveats in India’s batting heading into the tour. The transition from Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara had to be done. Still, the trio of Shubman Gill, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shreyas Iyer had only 30 Tests between them before boarding the flight for South Africa. Outside the Indian sub-continent, that experience comes down to only 11 Tests.
Batting average of 24.6 in South Africa is the lowest for any host country in Tests since 2018. Considering it is the toughest country to bat in, South Africa pose a test too stern for the new crop of India’s Test batters.
Gill is the biggest worry for India among the three. Since his memorable 91 at the Gabba, the right-hander has played six Tests (11 innings) outside the subcontinent and has amassed just 161 runs at an average of 16.10. He’s not posted a single 50-plus score in these games, with his highest score reading 29* against the West Indies.
Iyer was bowled twice in Centurion while Jaiswal was undone by seam and extra movement. Thus, there will be keen eyes on this young trio, both from the context of this Test series and a long-term vision.
Keegan Petersen’s low returns
Player of the Series when South Africa defeated India in 2021/22, Keegan Petersen has undergone a tough 2023. While injuries restricted Petersen to two Tests in 2023, he averaged only 31.7 across 12 first-class matches in the year. It is the lowest first-class average for him in a calendar year.
Petersen had a slow start to this first-class season. He scored only 48 runs in five innings, playing for Boland and South Africa A. In the subsequent five innings, he picked up form, averaging 73.8 with scores of 112*, 67 and 59. South Africa had a great outing with the bat in Centurion but Peterson played the ball onto his stumps at 2. The Freedom Series in 2021/22 was the only time he averaged above 40 in a Test series. After 12 Tests, the right-hander averages only 28.5 in his career.
Hence, the 30-year old’s form will be in focus during this Test, especially with him being one of the only seven capped players in South Africa’s makeshift squad for the upcoming Test series in New Zealand.
Ground Details and Conditions
KL Rahul, during the Centurion Test, mentioned that the pitch becomes better to bat on Day 2 and Day 3. Cape Town is not much different if you consider the last five Tests played at the venue.
It is among the three venues in the country where spinners have picked less than 10% of the wickets (since 2018). In the last Test at this venue, played between India and South Africa only, the spinners bowled just 33 out overs of 287. Hence, the conditions in Cape Town are quite similar to Centurion.
“The pitch looks pretty similar to the one in Centurion, maybe not so much grass, but there is enough grass covering for pacers,” said Indian skipper Rohit Sharma on the eve of the game.
> Kagiso Rabada has dismissed Rohit Sharma seven times in Test cricket, the most for any pacer. The battle between the two, with one being the lead pacer and the other being the opener, is inevitable.
Five of Rohit’s seven dismissals against Rabada have come while playing on the back foot. Twice he has fallen to the pull shot against the speedster. Hence, Rohit will have to ensure he doesn’t fall into the trap as he did in the first innings in Centurion.
> India may want to pull their length back against Dean Elgar. They were too full to him in the first Test, allowing the left-hander to drive the ball freely. On the contrary, it is the short length region where Elgar is least productive. Since 2022, Elgar averages only 10.7 against short-pitched deliveries from pacers. He has been out three times to short ball and another four times to back-of-a-length deliveries.
India can also contemplate placing a leg slip for Elgar as he has the tendency to pull the ball fine.
Bavuma and Coetzee are ruled out of this Test. Elgar will fill in Bavuma’s captaincy shoes. Zubayr Hamza, added to the squad as injury cover, will likely slot in Bavuma’s place. One of Lungi Ngidi or Keshav Maharaj will replace Coetzee.
Dean Elgar ( c ), Aiden Markram, Tony de Zorzi, Keegan Petersen, Zubayr Hamza, David Bedingham, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada, Nandre Burger, Lungi Ngidi
Ravichandran Ashwin is expected to make way for Jadeja. Prasidh Krishna was seen working hard with the bowling coach in the nets, hinting that the 27-year-old may hold his place after an underwhelming debut.
Shardul Thakur is available for selection despite a knock to his shoulder during practice. However, India included Avesh Khan in the squad for the second Test, reflecting the need for tall bowlers who can hit the deck hard. Thakur’s expensive figures in the first Test may tempt India to hand a Test debut to Avesh. There is also Mukesh Kumar in line who offers more control than Thakur.
Rohit Sharma ( c ), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Shardul Thakur, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj, Prasidh Krishna