No dearth of motivation as India, South Africa brace for Cape Town showdown

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safari
10 Jan 2022 | 12:18 PM
authorAnirudh Suresh

No dearth of motivation as India, South Africa brace for Cape Town showdown

Newlands is all set to oversee one of the most anticipated showdowns in recent history

After a one-sided first Test in Centurion, where the gulf in quality between the two sides looked seemingly evident, the Proteas remarkably bridged the gap in Johannesburg, where they outplayed India across a vast majority of the game to level the series. It was a comeback that pretty much no one foresaw, and the hosts’ thumping seven-wicket in the second Test has set-up an enthralling series decider in Cape Town.

Tempers were flaring on the final day in Johannesburg, so expect a fiery battle in the series finale, where both sides will be desperate for a win for completely different reasons. 

South Africa will be brimming with confidence following the crushing win in the second Test but they will know that awaiting them will be a wounded Indian side that has, of late, made a habit of bouncing back after hurtful losses. The tourists will be further bolstered by the return of skipper Virat Kohli.

For India, this Cape Town Test is a chance to conquer the final frontier - tick off a series win in a country where they are, to date, winless. For South Africa, triumphing at Newlands could very well mark the beginning of a new era.

South Africa need Aiden Markram to come to the party, and desperately so

For an hour in the second Test in Johannesburg, Aiden Markram showed just why he is an irresistible pick. After three failures, the right-hander was finally in ‘the zone’ in the second innings at the Wanderers, and for 60 minutes he was unstoppable. He punched and drove gloriously off both the front and back foot, flicked and pulled delightfully and was artistically dismantling the Indian bowling. 

But just when you thought it was going to be his day, Markram’s innings came to a premature end, thereby continuing the love-hate relationship he has with the fans.

The 31 in Johannesburg, in the end, did play a significant part in the Proteas win, but the truth is that Markram’s returns in this series simply have not been good enough: an average of 13.00 with three scores under 15. These numbers are even more disappointing when you factor-in the actuality that he is the third-most experienced batter behind Elgar and Bavuma, both of whom have sizzled so far in the series.

As alarming as his returns have been the manner of dismissals: all four of Markram’s dismissals in this series have been either bowled or LBW, and he has been a sitting duck against the ball coming in. It has simply been far too easy for India to neutralize his threat. 

It is to the credit of Elgar and Bavuma that South Africa find themselves level heading into the decider, but asking the duo to the heavy-lifting for a third Test in a row will be too much. In a series where South Africa desperately needed him to stand up and deliver, Markram has thus far not just under-performed, but has seen himself be genuinely outclassed by the inexperienced batters in the side.

In many ways, South Africa played both the Centurion and Johannesburg Tests with nine men, with both Markram and Maharaj making little to no impact. But despite managing to win at the Wanderers, victory in the third Test might be out of their reach should this handicap continue in Cape Town. 

Will India now trust Shardul Thakur more with the ball?

Shardul Thakur created history in Johannesburg with a stunning seven-wicket haul in the first innings, but that spell might never have happened without the injury to Mohammed Siraj. Siraj’s injury forced Rahul to go to Thakur and the rest, as they say, is history.

Following the seven-wicket haul in the first innings, Rahul used Thakur like a proper third seamer in the second innings, giving him 16 overs, but up until the mid-way point of South Africa’s first innings at the Wanderers, India showed reluctance in bowling Thakur. 

He only bowled 5 overs in the second innings in Centurion, while even in Johannesburg he was not thrown the ball until the 37th over. Rahul, at one point, trusted an injured Siraj over Thakur. In the England series, too, no seamer bowled fewer overs per innings than the 30-year-old.

Also read: To define Shardul Thakur’s success as just ‘luck’ is criminal

This is because there existed an inherent fear that Thakur might end up gifting runs in low-scoring games, thanks to his tendency to frequently dish-out boundary balls. However, with confidence under his belt, the right-armer impressed in the second innings in Johannesburg, proving to be the most economical and threatening Indian seamer.

Come Cape Town, it will certainly be interesting to see how India use Thakur. Would what he did in Johannesburg now have changed the management’s perception? Would he now be thrown the ball as frequently as any other seamer? Or will he still continue being in the team as someone who adds depth to the batting and can put in a shift with the ball only if and when required?

An interesting decision at the toss awaits

India have won the toss twice in this series and on both occasions, they have opted to bat first. Interestingly, Dean Elgar also admitted in both Centurion and Johannesburg that he too would have opted to bat first. In the wake of what unfolded in the second Test, where India crumbled after winning the toss and batting, it will certainly be interesting to see what the winning skipper chooses to do.

Cape Town, too, has historically been a bat first wicket. 5 of the last 6 Tests at the venue have been won by the team batting first, with the only exception being South Africa beating Pakistan in 2019 after they won the toss and opted to bowl. In 2018, the Cape Town Test saw South Africa bat first and win, but Day 1 offered plenty of assistance to the bowlers, particularly in the first couple of hours.

What will be fascinating to see if the Johannesburg result influences the way the two camps think. Will India be confident enough to bat first again after what happened in the second Test? Will Elgar now be tempted to bowl first if he wins the toss? Or does he trust South Africa’s batting enough to be confident about opting to bat, knowing there will definitely be assistance for the seamers early on?

As was the case in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, as a captain, this might be one of those games where you might just be better off losing the toss. 

Possible Playing XI

India

With Kohli back, expect Hanuma Vihari to make way for the Indian skipper. Siraj is officially out with injury, so his place will, in most likelihood, be taken by Ishant Sharma.

Expected XI: Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma

South Africa

Having won the second Test, expect the Proteas to go in with an unchanged line-up. Keshav Maharaj did not play a big part in Johannesburg, but expect the Saffers to stick with the left-arm-spinner.

Expected XI: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar (c), Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wk), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi

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South Africa vs IndiaIndia tour of South Africa, 2021/22IndiaSouth AfricaKL RahulShardul ThakurDean ElgarVirat KohliAiden Markram

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