India head into the third and final Test against South Africa on Wednesday as a team desperate to turn the tide in this game. No Indian team has ever toured South Africa and returned having lost all the Tests. It’s not a scenario one would associate with the world’s No 1 team.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Skipper Virat Kohli is not shy of shuffling his players around. On Tuesday, he confirmed that the wicket for the third Test is a “typical” Wanderers track with a lot of grass – or a “green mamba” as the curator put it. Kohli further hinted that the team might go in with an all-pace attack, a departure from his otherwise tried and tested combination of at least one spinner.
Under Kohli, India has achieved considerable success in the longest format, much of it thanks to the contribution of its spinners like R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. India had used the services of Ashwin in the first two Tests. However, the off-spinner could not find much success in conditions that are clearly suited more for the fast bowlers.
In the 34 Tests that Kohli has stood in as captain, he has changed the playing XI on each occasion. However, never has he played without a spinner. If his words are any indication, then the Wanderers Test might be the one instance when a team led by Kohli will go with an all-pace attack.
The last time India fielded an all-pace attack in a Test match was in 2011-’12. Playing at Perth, the team, then led by MS Dhoni, was desperate for a win. Australia were 2-0 up in the four match series and the visitors needed to shake things up.
Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and R Vinay Kumar manned the four-pronged attack. While the result favoured hosts Australia, it went down as one of the rare occasions when India did not include a spinner in their ranks.
Cut to 2018 in South Africa and the scenario is not quite different. India are 2-0 down and are facing the prospect of a whitewash. Conditions at the Wanderers are not too different to Perth.
Unlike 2012, India come into the the Wanderers Test with pacers who are far more experienced and mature. Six years ago, other than Zaheer, the rest of India’s pace battery consisted the likes of Ishant and Umesh, who were still greenhorns.
Ishant and Umesh are still leading India’s seam-bowling department, but they have come into the series after gaining valuable experience.
In an otherwise disappointing series, it is the bowling department which has shone brightest since India landed in South Africa. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant and Umesh have shored up the bowling attack well so far.
Kohli on Tuesday said that the bowling has been one of the positives from the losses the incurred in the first two Tests.
The batting has been their weakest link. Other than Kohli, who scored a fighting 153 in the first innings of the second Test, none of the other top-order batsmen have come close to challenging the South African bowling unit so far in this series.
With an all-pace attack in place, the team management could bring in Ajinkya Rahane in place of all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who came under-fire for his inexplicable run-out at a crucial juncture in the second Test.
After his 93 in the first innings of the opening Test, Pandya struggled to make a mark with the bat in the rest of the innings. While his bowling hasn’t quite been menacing, he does allow an option for a fifth bowler, which could mean Rohit Sharma then making way for Rahane in the playing XI.
- IndiaPlayed: 4; Won: 1; Lost: 0; Drawn 3.
- South AfricaPlayed 12; Won 5; Lost 6; Drawn 1.
Johannesburg has traditionally been a haven for fast bowlers. While that may be true, the conditions have not always helped the cause of the home side.
It was on one such seaming track that India had beaten South Africa in 2006. S Sreesanth picked up a five-wicket haul and was India’s star performer in that game. India won the game by 123 runs to register only their second win from 19 Tests in the country.
Wanderers is also a venue where India have never faced defeat. In four games, India has drawn three times and won once.
However, if India are to maintain the record, they will want of their bowlers to produce the sort of spell that Sreesanth pulled off 12 years ago. Also, with a “green mamba” expected, Kohli and the team management would be expecting the match-winner to be one of the bowlers.
South Africa’s Vernon Philander did just that in the first Test with a brilliant six-for during India’s second innings in Cape Town. Youngster Lungi Ngidi emulated his teammate bagging six wickets in the second of the Centurion Test. Both walked away with Man of the Match awards for their performance.
While India’s bowlers have managed to take 20 wickets in each of the previous two Tests, none of India’s pacers have come up with a spell of individual brilliance that has left the opposition gasping for air. Bhuvneshwar Kumar did show heart with a four-wicket haul in South Africa’s first innings during the first Test, however his exclusion from the playing XI in the second Test left many wondering if the 27-year-old could have replicated his performance in Centurion, if not bettered it.
If Kohli and the team management stick to their policy of horses for courses, then Bhuvneshwar should come back into the playing XI at the Wanderers. If the curator’s promise of the “green mamba” holds true, then the chances of Bhuvneshwar being joined by Umesh, Ishant and Shami in the team seem to be quite high.