Big picture: Bruised India out to salvage series
This South Africa Test tour was billed as the final frontier for India, and it continues to be unbreachable. Despite rain interruptions and South Africa losing their designated captain Temba Bavuma to injury, India lost the Boxing Day Test inside three days to crash to an innings defeat. As if that wasn’t bad enough, India were docked two WTC points for maintaining a slow over rate. The challenge will only get stiffer for them in the second Test at Newlands, where they have never won a Test in six attempts.
The second-innings batting collapse sealed India’s fate in the first Test, but it was the bowling that needs immediate remedy. The change bowlers, Shardul Thakur and debutant Prasidh Krishna, lacked control, leaking a combined 194 runs in their 39 overs for just two wickets. Should India bring in Mukesh Kumar or Avesh Khan for Prasidh? Should they drop Thakur to create room for an out-and-out quick or R Ashwin? Or should they simply trust Prasidh and Thakur to tighten up in conditions that could provide appreciable seam movement, especially in the early exchanges? India’s think-tank will have to make some difficult choices again, in their quest to save the series.
Elgar already has one hand on the trophy and will be looking to bow out with both his hands on the silverware. In the absence of the injured Bavuma, Elgar will captain South Africa in what will be his final Test. Fast bowler Gerald Coetzee has also been sidelined from the Newlands Test with injury, which potentially opens up a spot for Lungi Ngidi, who missed the first Test. If Ngidi isn’t match-fit once again, South Africa could squeeze in left-arm fingerspinner Keshav Maharaj. Nandre Burger has seamlessly stepped into South Africa’s team across formats, offering variety with his left-arm angle and speeds north of 145kph.
David Bedingham has also made an instant impact with his batting and catching in the cordon. The emergence of both Bedingham and Burger is a testament to South Africa’s depth though they are still coming to terms with the changing landscape of cricket. Test cricket isn’t at the top of South Africa cricket’s agenda at the start of the New Year, with the SA20 ready to take centerstage. South Africa top cricketers will be in action in the franchise competition in the country while a severely depleted side, led by an uncapped player, will travel to New Zealand for their next Test series. But for now, South Africa will set their focus on sweeping India 2-0 and giving Elgar the perfect send-off.
South Africa WWWDL (last five Tests, most recent first)
In the spotlight: Dean Elgar and Shreyas Iyer
It was probably written in the stars. Dean Elgar: Player of the Match in his final Test at his hometown Centurion. Elgar: captain of South Africa in his final Test overall, in Cape Town. Elgar has a strong body of work at home: he averages 48.09 in 81 Test innings. Only Jacques Kallis (56.73) has a better average than Elgar at home among South Africa batters who have played at least 50 Test innings at home. After scoring a hundred at SuperSport Park, Elgar publicly expressed his desire to go out with a bang.
Shreyas Iyer has had his share of troubles against the short ball, but it was the full ball that got him in both innings in Centurion. Perhaps, he was expecting the short ball and was fractionally late to press forward against the fuller ones. Iyer has cemented his place in India’s ODI side, but he has played just 11 Test matches so far, out of which only two have come in SENA countries. Iyer will be tested by Kagiso Rabada and Co. once again in Cape Town.
Team news: Fit-again Jadeja could return for India
Local boy Zubayr Hamza is set to replace Bavuma in the XI. The 28-year-old had scored hundreds for South Africa A and Lions last month, and averages almost 50 in first-class cricket. Ngidi hasn’t played a first-class match in over a year, and if he isn’t ready yet, South Africa will turn to Maharaj to replace Coetzee.
South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Tony de Zorzi, 4 Keegan Petersen, 5 Zubayr Hamza, 6 David Bedingham, 7 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 8 Marco Jansen, 9 Keshav Maharaj/Lungi Ngidi, 10 Kagiso Rabada, 11 Nandre Burger
Jadeja, who missed the Centurion Test with an upper back spasm, is available for selection now and will likely slot back into the XI. Thakur had copped a blow on his shoulder at the nets after the first Test but is available for selection for the second. Dropping Prasidh after just one chance will be harsh. Rohit Sharma said as much at his pre-match press conference.
India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Shubman Gill, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 KL Rahul (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Prasidh Krishna/Mukesh Kumar
Pitch and conditions: Another tough one for batters?
There is a new(ish) groundsman at Newlands, Braam Mong, and this will be his first Test pitch. The surface appeared greener than usual in the lead-up to this Test and the weather is expected to fine for the duration of the game though conditions might get a bit windy. While they could be early juice for the seamers, spinners might come into play as the match wears on.
Stats and trivia: Rabada excels at Newlands
Elgar is currently level with Daryl Cullinan and Herschelle Gibbs on 14 Test centuries. If he manages to score one more, he will finish sixth on South Africa’s all-time century-makers’ list.
Rabada has a particularly strong record at Newlands – 42 wickets in seven Tests at an average of 20.95. He is now five strikes away from surpassing Kallis’ tally of 291 Test wickets.
India had won at least one Test during their recent tours of South Africa in 2017-18 and 2021-22. The last time they didn’t win a single game in a Test series in South Africa was in 2013-14.
Rohit will look to correct his dismal Test record in South Africa. He has managed only 128 runs in ten innings at an average of 12.80 with a top score of 47.
“Drawing the series is not something we are thinking about at all. It’s a big occasion for all of us. We are in a fortunate position knowing that we can’t lose the series but drawing is maybe as big as a loss for us.”
South Africa captain Dean Elgar
“We all get nervous playing the first game. It’s understandable but he has good ability to succeed at this level, especially in this format. It’s just about showing faith and trust and getting the job done from there.”
India captain Rohit Sharma on Prasidh Krishna