In many ways, it all began at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg for this Indian Test team under Virat Kohli. After a combative press conference in Centurion and a series defeat that evidently stung him in 2018, Kohli was fired up more than usual in the third Test.

There were no World Test Championship points at stake, it was a dead rubber on paper, but you’d have not guessed that watching Kohli and Co go about their business in that match on a pitch that was deemed dangerous by many, including the current South Africa captain Dean Elgar. The Indians simply wanted to win at all costs, even if the series was over. Because, as we know now all too well, backs to the wall is when they produce their most compelling cricket.

Fast forward four years, the tables have turned. The setting is Wanderers again... this time, Kohli and Co enter the match as firm favourites. From a venue in Centurion where they had never won a Test match before until finishing 2021 by breaching another fortress, they move to a venue where they have never lost a Test. Yes, believe it or not there exists a venue in one of the prime Test-playing nations where India have not lost across three decades.

Result Margin Toss Bat Ground Match date
draw - lost 2nd Johannesburg 26 Nov 1992
draw - won 1st Johannesburg 16 Jan 1997
won 123 runs won 1st Johannesburg 15 Dec 2006
draw - won 1st Johannesburg 18 Dec 2013
won 63 runs won 1st Johannesburg 24 Jan 2018
via ESPNCricinfo

And Kohli has every reason to be confident his team can seal an historic Test series win in South Africa when they face the hosts who are evidently in transition and weakened further by the absence of Quinton de Kock.

At one of South Africa’s premier cricket stadiums, India have a record of two wins and three draws since their first tour of South Africa in 1992/93.

Virat Kohli has been phenomenal as a leader, feel a big run of scores coming up for him: Coach Rahul Dravid

“It’s a ground we all loving playing on and we are looking forward to it,” said Kohli after India won the first Test at Centurion by 113 runs on Thursday. And on Sunday, coach Rahul Dravid hoped the run continues as well while saying he can’t quite put a finger on why India’s record at the venue is good. The pace is quick but the bounce maybe not as much usually, he postured, but last time the pitch was as treacherous as it could get for batting.

Despite the Wanderers being renowned as a ground favouring fast bowlers -– which should have put India at a disadvantage on some of their earlier tours, before the emergence of their potent current pace bowling attack –- India have performed consistently well in Johannesburg.

The ground holds particularly happy memories for some of the Indian touring party.

In fact, Dravid made his first Test century in a drawn match in 1996/97 and ten years later captained India to their first Test win in South Africa. Kohli gave a batting masterclass when he made 119 and 96 in a high-scoring draw in 2013/14 to enable India to set the hosts a seemingly impossible target of 458 runs to win. In that match, though, South Africa came close to beating India for the only time in Johannesburg, making 450 for eight in a dramatic draw.

Kohli then led India to victory on a sub-standard pitch four seasons ago, a win he has highlighted as a “milestone” which gave the side the belief to follow up with a series win in Australia last January.

They also lead England 2-1 with the final Test – called off last year due to covid in the Indian camp – to be played later in 2022.

Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane all made crucial runs on a pitch which was halted at one stage because conditions were regarded as dangerous, while Mohammed Shami, one of the heroes of the win in Centurion, took five for 28 in the second innings.

‘Several headaches’

A series win in South Africa remains a final frontier for India, who now have the opportunity to wrap up an historic triumph with a match to spare.

India were superior in all departments at Centurion, although South Africa’s fast bowlers came back strongly after a poor first day.

The home side’s batting was inadequate against a well-disciplined Indian bowling attack.

The middle order is vulnerable in the absence of the now-retired de Kock (he was missing rest of the Test series anyway), while the opening batsmen, captain Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram, have failed to stay together beyond the second over of an innings in South Africa’s last three Tests.

The scale of the defeat in the first Test has presented the home camp with several headaches.

Elgar hinted at a change in the batting order and there are several permutations which are likely to be discussed.

Kyle Verreynne is expected to be de Kock’s successor as a wicketkeeper-batsman but South Africa will debate whether to add another specialist batsman in place of all-rounder Wiaan Mulder.

As is often the case at the Wanderers, South Africa could consider picking an all-pace attack, with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj having only played in two of a possible six Tests at the ground, in one of which – against Sri Lanka last season -– he was not called on to bowl.

Duanne Olivier was recovering from Covid-19 and had suffered a mild hamstring strain according to South African selection convener Victor Mpitsang explaining why he was omitted for the first Test against India at SuperSport Park.

The 29-year-old’s non-selection was one of the big talking points of the first day when India piled up 272 for three, with KL Rahul scoring 122 not out.

Olivier was the form bowler of the South African domestic season leading up to the Test series, with 28 wickets at an average of 11.10 in four first-class matches.

With his ability to intimidate batsmen with fast, short-pitched deliveries, Olivier (if deemed fit) could slot into the XI. But with Elgar strongly hinting that Maharaj will retain his place in the XI, it remains to be seen if or how that change happens.

Indian batting concerns

India, meanwhile, have the luxury of considering whether to tamper with a winning team. The bowling attack looked threatening all through the match and unless there are niggles or injuries, will remain the same. The batting unit, however, is still under pressure as the experienced trio of Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara once again struggled to convert starts into substantial scores.

“It could be a variety of factors,” Dravid said. “There are phases in your career where probably you feel you’re batting well, but the big scores don’t necessarily come. It happens to everyone, Just so happens it is happening for 2-3 at the same time... but I think the heartening point, the good point is really that they seem to be batting well. So it’s just a matter of time.”

And Dravid even stuck his neck out to say he strongly feels a big run of scores is around the corner for Kohli, who has now gone two full years in international cricket without a century across formats. Will 2022 start off with the wait for his 71st ton coming to an end? Unsure. But one can be sure that he would not care one bit if the result goes in India’s favour and this team creates another slice of modern cricket history.

Likely teams

South Africa (from): Dean Elgar (capt), Aiden Markram, Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wkt), Ryan Rickelton, Wiaan Mulder, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi, Glenton Stuurman.

India: Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wkt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.

Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Allahuddien Paleker (both RSA).

TV umpire: Adrian Holdstock (RSA).

Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).

Match starts at 1.30 pm IST and will be live on the Star Sports network in India.

With AFP inputs