India will aim to seal the three-match series against South Africa when the two teams face each other in the second Test, beginning in Pune on Thursday. The hosts head into the game as firm favourtites after their 203-run win in the first Test.
Rohit Sharma’s twin centuries in Visakhapatnam were a huge positive for the Indian team. With the experienced right-hander providing solidity at the top of the order, and with Mayank Agarwal striking top form with a double century, the batting line-up seems to have all corners covered at this point.
India’s middle order, which includes skipper Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari could be tested if the pitch at the Gahunje Stadium assists spin. It was at this very ground that the Indian Test team endured its last batting collapse at home, against Australia in 2017 on a rank turner where off-spinner Nathan Lyon ran riot.
Chances are slim that a pitch of that nature will be on offer for the upcoming game but even if it is, India will have the upper hand. Ravichandran Ashwin’s haul of eight wickets in the first Test and Ravindra Jadeja’s four-for in the second innings of that match means that India’s two strike bowlers in home conditions are full of confidence at the moment.
India will be confident of their pace bowling department as well. Mohammad Shami’s five-for in South Africa’s second innings in Visakhapatnam played an important role in deciding the outcome of the match.
The Indian pacers’ ability to provide match-winning contributions has added immense potency to the side. Such was their impact in the first Test that Jasprit Bumrah was hardly missed despite his phenomenal presence in red-ball cricket over the past 18 months.
As far as the South Africans are concerned, they will take heart from the fact that they managed to take the first Test to the fifth day despite India’s massive total in their first innings. But for the Proteas to have any chance of making a comeback in the series, they’ll need to improve substantially on all fronts.
The dogged Dean Elgar and the elegant Quinton de Kock showed a lot of character with their hundreds in the first Test. Dane Piedt and Senuram Muthusamy, too, put up a brave fight on the fifth day. But the visitors will need bigger contributions from their middle-order batsmen, especially skipper Faf du Plessis and his deputy Temba Bavuma.
The bowling department was a big disappointment for South Africa in the first Test. Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada didn’t do enough with the new ball and the spinners struggled to pose any real challenge to India’s batsmen.
A big concern for the visitors is that the only bowling options they have on the bench are pacers – Lungi Ngidi and Anrich Nortje. The series won’t be competitive if SA spinners Keshav Maharaj, Piedt and Muthusamy don’t up their game.
India: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (w), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Shubman Gill
South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Dane Piedt, Temba Bavuma, Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (w), Senuran Muthusamy, Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Heinrich Klaasen, Zubayr Hamza, Anrich Nortje.
Match starts 9.30 am.
(Inputs from PTI)