An enthralling battle in Centurion saw India eventually comprehensively come out on top, winning the first Test by 113 runs, and the caravan will now move to Johannesburg, a place where the visitors have never lost a Test. The onus will be on the hosts to put up a much-stronger showing, and it is likely that the Proteas will make at least a couple of changes to the starting XI, if not more.
India should ideally field an unchanged XI, but could there be room for the visitors to throw in a change or two? Ahead of the second Test, we look at the selection conundrums faced by both sides.
Could one of Ashwin or Thakur sit out the second Test?
In Centurion there was little purchase for Ashwin, but he still did a fine hold-up job, conceding at an ER of 2.5 whilst taking two wickets. He also starred in a crucial 35-run partnership with Rishabh Pant in the second innings.
But despite chipping in as best as he could, Ashwin’s spot in the XI might not be guaranteed.
The Wanderers is one of the most pace-friendly venues in the world, with pacers, since 2014, having taken 229 of the 245 non run-out wickets to have fallen (89%). It is worth remembering that the last time India played South Africa at the Wanderers, they opted to field an all-pace attack.
Hence, with both Ishant and Umesh waiting in the shed, there could be every chance of the management opting to field an all-pace attack.
Conversely, the management could ask Ashwin to do a defensive job and bring in Umesh or Ishant in place of Shardul Thakur, who was by far the most innocuous seamer in the first Test. Despite taking the crucial wicket of Quinton de Kock in the first innings, Thakur lacked discipline and conceded runs at an ER of 4.60. In the second innings, he bowled just 5 of the 68 overs.
Keeping Ashwin and replacing Thakur with a more potent pacer could hence be an option. However, that would mean sacrificing batting depth.
Unchanged top five likely, Pujara only player whose spot 100% not fixed
Even before a single ball had been bowled, head coach Rahul Dravid upset a majority of the fanbase by preferring Ajinkya Rahane over Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari. But the decision stood vindicated at the end of the game as the veteran struck a free-flowing 48 in the first innings before following it up with a swashbuckling 20 in the second. Across the course of the two innings, he looked like a man born to excel in these conditions. He will, therefore, in all likelihood, retain his spot in the XI should he stay fit.
Cheteshwar Pujara, on the other hand, struggled in the first Test with scores of 0 and 16, meaning he currently stands as the only player in the top five whose spot is not assured. But India are unlikely to axe him after two failures, that too after having convincingly won the game. Should they take the very bold call of dropping Pujara, though, one would have to assume that it will be Vihari - and not Iyer - who will bat at No.3. Not only has Vihari already spent over a month in South Africa, he also batted in the Top 4 for India ‘A’.
Duanne Olivier set to return, but who will he replace?
CSA revealed after day one of the first Test that Duanne Olivier had been rested from the Centurion game as ‘precaution’, meaning he will all but return for the second Test. But the question is - who does he replace in the XI?
After the first innings of the first Test, it would have been easy to pick Marco Jansen. But Jansen bounced back in the second innings with a four-fer, and he also showed across both the innings that he has decent batting potential in him. The variety he brings with the left-arm angle might also be an incentive for the hosts to keep the youngster in the XI.
Given Ngidi and Rabada are locks, could South Africa, therefore, possibly drop Keshav Maharaj? The left-arm spinner did not pose a threat or provide control in the first innings, and remarkably did not even bowl in the second dig. We’ve already revealed above how Wanderers is a graveyard for spinners, and in 2018 the Proteas benched Maharaj in Johannesburg. Olivier coming in for the left-arm spinner, therefore, could be a realistic option.
The other left-field option is to bring Olivier in for Wiaan Mulder. Supposedly a batting all-rounder, Mulder averages 14 with the bat after 7 Tests, and registered scores of 12 and 1 in the first Test. He also did not threaten too much with the ball. However, such a move will mean Jansen and Rabada batting at 7 and 8 respectively. Might be a spot too high for both the players.
Kyle Verreynne primed to take QDK's spot; 6 or 7 batters remains the only question
In Kyle Verreynne, a keeper who averages almost 52 with the bat in first-class cricket and has already debuted for the Proteas, South Africa have a very able de Kock replacement. All of Markram, Petersen, Van der Dussen and Bavuma are also likely to retain their places unless one of them suffers a late injury.
The only question for South Africa in the batting department, then, is if they want to field an extra batter and push Verreynne to No.7. In the first Test it was evident that batting is the hosts’ weakest facet, and bolstering it would make logical sense.
The only options available, however, are Sarel Erwee and wicket-keeper Ryan Rickelton, two players who have predominantly batted in the Top 3 in first-class cricket.
Bringing either of those two in cannot be ruled out, but it looks likely that the hosts will continue with the current combination.
Should South Africa want to field four pacers, a spinner and have batting depth at the same time, they also have the option of bringing in someone like a George Linde for Mulder (bringing in Olivier for Maharaj). Linde averages 28.00 with the ball in Tests and has passed 20 four times (out of six) with the bat.