Virat Kohli is fit and will slot right into the Indian playing XI for the third Test against South Africa at Cape Town but unlike the past, when that would mean a boost to India’s total, this time around we aren’t quite sure.

By now, we know that the wickets in South Africa will help bowlers more than the batters and that assigns great value to the players who can get the big score for their team. Cape Town is expected to be no different. If anything, it will present an even greater challenge.

According to ESPNCricinfo, in the last five Tests in Cape Town, fast bowlers have averaged 22.95 runs per wicket, the best among South African venues. These are numbers that make predicting the course of the Test a difficult task.

Both sides have fragile batting line-ups and with little to choose between the two bowling attacks, we are all set for a cracker.

India at Cape Town

India don’t have the best of records at Newlands. In five matches at the venue, they haven’t finished on the winning side even once.

From a South African perspective, going purely by statistics, this isn’t Centurion by a long shot. Of the 58 matches, they have played at the venue, the hosts have won 26 but they have also lost 21 matches. Australia and England have won 10 matches at the venue and New Zealand are the only other team to find success.

But if one has a look at SA’s record at Cape Town after readmission, it is 23-5 – second only to Centurion. They are a team that knows how to play at this venue.

Ind vs SA at Cape Town

Span Mat Won Lost Draw
India 1993-2018 5 0 3 2
South Africa 1993-2018 5 3 0 2
Stats courtesy ESPNCricinfo

The Kohli factor

Kohli’s presence on the ground is not just about the runs. In the fourth innings at the Wanderers, India looked pretty flat and the skipper’s inexhaustible supply of energy would have surely helped their cause.

Kohli, who has made 27 Test centuries, is capable of taking advantage of a Newlands pitch likely to be more friendly to batters than those on which the first two matches were played.

Although Kohli’s career Test batting average is still above 50, it drops to below 30 since he scored 317 runs for twice out in a home series against South Africa in October 2019. He made 136 against Bangladesh in Kolkata a month later but has not made another century in 14 subsequent Test matches.

With the series on the line, India would like nothing more than to see their skipper spark to form and avoid playing at the fifth-stump line.

Pujara, Rahane need to step up... again

Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane might have earned a reprieve after coming up with fine knocks when India needed them in the second Test but it wasn’t enough to take India to an unassailable position either.

They shared an impressive century partnership in Johannesburg before being dismissed for 53 and 58 respectively but critics will point out how they needed to have carried on for the sake of the team.

For now, it seems like Virat Kohli and the Indian team management have their back.

“Well, I obviously can’t pinpoint when we will have a talk on transition,” said Kohli on the eve of the match. “The game itself pans out in a way that transitions happen. It can’t be forced by individuals.”

Kohli added: “If you look at the last Test, the way Jinx and Pujara batted, in the second innings, that experience is obviously priceless for us, especially in series like these where we know that these guys have done the job in the past. These guys have performed in Australia the last time we were there. In the last Test, they played crucial knocks in crucial situations and that has a lot of value.”

Learnings for Pant

Kohli feels acceptance of a mistake is the first sign of improvement. He spoke extensively about Rishabh Pant’s rash shot in the second innings at Johannesburg and tried to put it in context for all those present by quoting what MS Dhoni had once told him.

“MS Dhoni, at the start of my career, had given me a fabulous piece of advice,” said Kohli while speaking about Pant’s dismissal. “Between your first and second mistake, there should be a minimum gap of seven to eight months and then only can you prolong your career.”

He added: “That got ingrained in my system that I will not repeat the same mistake.”

Kohli and coach Rahul Dravid have had some serious conversations with Pant about the manner of his dismissal and it will be interesting to see whether the aggressive batter will change his ways in the decider.

“We have had conversations with Rishabh at practice,” said Kohli. “When a batter plays a particular stroke, he is the first one to know whether it was a correct shot to play in that particular situation. As long as the individual accepts the responsibility, I think, then only can you make proper progress. We have all been out at some point at important stages of a match in our careers.

He further explained: “Sometimes because of pressure, sometimes because of our own mistake and some other times when a bowler shows quality skills. You need to understand what was the mindset at that particular moment when you took a certain decision.”

No Siraj

India are going to make one forced change with fast bowler Mohammed Siraj unable to recover from a hamstring injury. Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav is likely to step in.

Ishant has the experience and the ability to bowl long spells but he hasn’t been at his best for a while now. His supporting act usually allows Bumrah and Shami to go all out. The lanky pacer averages 40 in seven Tests in SA.

Umesh hasn’t had a lot of success away from home and he has never played a Test in SA but it might just come down to who has been bowling better in the nets. With no real cricket for the duo, they will come into the Test pretty cold.

Likely teams:

South Africa: Dean Elgar (captain), Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wkt), Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier or Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi

India: Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wkt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav

Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Adrian Holdstock (both RSA)

TV umpire: Allahuddien Paleker (RSA)

Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM)

With inputs from AFP