It has been quite some time since we have seen South Africa celebrate a Test win on Indian soil – it came at a time when Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were at their peaks and a young Dale Steyn ripped through the Indian batting line-up with one of the finest spells of fast bowling in the Indian subcontinent. It’s been almost a decade.
Kallis has since retired, Amla too has walked away and a string of injuries forced South Africa’s highest wicket-taker Steyn to quit red-ball cricket. The Proteas are no doubt in their transition phase – a phase where not many results will go your way, but you toil hard to get results in your favour. When Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – two of Sri Lanka’s most prolific batsmen retired around the same time, their team too underwent a tough period, but they have slowly started to find new heroes to win them matches across formats.
South Africa too will find moments where a few individuals will put their hands up and deliver, but in the near future, everything may not be hunky-dory for them. They’ve begun their transition phase in one of the toughest countries to tour in the last couple of years and it is no surprise that they are on the back foot and under-fire already.
When the chips are down, you need someone to step up and lead the way. There are no better players than skipper Faf du Plessis and a senior player like Dean Elgar to take the initiative. While there is no way South Africa can win the series, they still have a lot at stake going into the third Test at Ranchi.
Points in the World Test Championship: While India have already taken a resounding lead, for South Africa, crucial points in the WTC will be at stake. Having lost both matches so far, they will be desperate to get off the mark in the world table. They didn’t come close to securing a result in the two Tests so far, but with nothing to play for when it comes to the series, they might as well get a win or even a draw to get their first points on the board.
With Keshav Maharaj ruled out, it presents an opportunity for the other spinners – Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy to shoulder responsibility. Du Plessis reckons that there is a lot of turn on the Ranchi track and this might be a good opportunity for the spinners. The South African slower bowlers have managed just 10 wickets and when compared against Ashwin-Jadeja’s combined total of 24, it does not make for good reading. However, this Test gives them a chance to redeem themselves.
South Africa have also named orthodox spinner George Linde as Maharaj’s replacement. The Proteas might hand him a debut. Linde had a terrific 50-over tournament against India A recently and in his previous First-Class game, he secured his best figures in a match (11 for 131) against Highveld Lions. He will be itching for a chance in the side.
This is also a golden opportunity for the Proteas to address their top-order woes. Indians have had plenty of centuries from their top six, while South Africa have had only one.
Not only the Indian batsmen score big, they also put a price on their wicket, which is something South Africa can take a leaf out of.
Du Plessis mentioned in the press conference ahead of this game that he is disappointed to have not been able to convert his fifties to hundreds, despite going past the 50-run mark twice already in the series. Leading from the front is something du Plessis thrives on and he sets high standards for himself. At Ranchi, he will look to take up the responsibility of batting at No. 4 – a place well suited for him – and would look to play a long innings. On a personal note, this has perhaps been one of du Plessis’ best years in international cricket, but the fact that his side isn’t winning matches more frequently would bother him.
Aiden Markram’s injury could be a blessing in disguise for South Africa as it gives an opportunity for Zubayr Hamza to make it into the XI. In his previous three seasons in First-Class cricket, he has averaged 63.31, 52 and most recently 48.07. He has just played one Test and perhaps deserves another go in the longest format.
With a bowling strike-rate of 116 and an average of 51.83, Kagiso Rabada’s performances in India have easily been the worst among all the countries he has played in. He bowled well in the first innings at Pune, where he took the first three wickets in India’s first innings, but other than that, there isn’t much to talk about regarding his performances. This game will be an excellent chance for him to show the world why he is one of the fiercest fast bowlers in world cricket today.