South African cricket Test captain Hashim Amla returns to the scene of a personal triumph looking to revive both his and his side’s fortunes when the third Test against India starts in Nagpur on Wednesday.
The Proteas captain hit an unbeaten 253, the second highest of his 23 three-figure knocks in Test cricket, at the same VCA stadium on the outskirts of Nagpur in 2010. Fiery pace bowler Dale Steyn then picked up a 10-wicket haul in the same match, including a career-best 7-51 in the first innings, to fashion South Africa’s emphatic win by an innings and six runs.
The top-ranked tourists, down 1-0 in the current four-match series, will hope to recreate the same magic as they battle to preserve their nine-year unbeaten series record on foreign soil.
The usually prolific Amla has endured a lean series so far, making 43 and 0 in the first Test in Mohali and seven in the rain-ruined second match in Bangalore. The scores are a far cry from Amla’s amazing record in India where in six previous Tests before the current series he had scored 823 runs at an average of 102.87 with four centuries.
Steyn’s availability remains uncertain due to his slow recovery from a groin strain that he suffered in the first Test which forced him to miss the Bangalore match. With Kyle Abbott having already replaced the injured Vernon Philander, the tourists flew in fast bowler Marchant de Lange, who played the last of his two Tests way back in 2012, as cover for Steyn.
“At the moment we only have three fit seamers in Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Abbott,” said South African coach Russell Domingo.
“We want to be prepared in case one of the three breaks down.”
South Africa have been let down so far by their inability to cope with India’s spin twins, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who have equally shared 24 of the 30 wickets in three innings so far.
The tourists limped to 184 and 109 in Mohali to lose by 108 runs inside three days and scored 214 on the first day in Bangalore after being sent in to bat in overcast conditions.
‘Hope lessons learnt’
AB de Villiers is the only batsman who appears to have adjusted to the turning ball, making a top-score of 63 in Mohali and a stroke-filled 85 in Bangalore on his 100th Test appearance.
When Amla’s men take the field on Wednesday, it will be only their fifth day of international cricket over the past month, leaving them short of serious match practice.
Domingo was, however, confident his team can turn the series around in Nagpur. “We’ve done it before,” he said. “We know that we are still in the contest with two matches to play and the wickets are definitely going to produce results.
“We have a lot of inexperienced players who have not played in India before so hopefully they will have learnt a lot of lessons from these first two matches.”
India, meanwhile, are determined to wrap up the series after seeing their seven-Test winning streak at home being broken by the bad weather in Bangalore.
Skipper Virat Kohli said the loss of four full playing days in the second Test had not affected either the morale or the momentum gained by his side. “We are all in a very good space. I would like to give credit to the guys for staying in the zone,” Kohli said.
With the pitch expected to be a slow turner, the hosts may either bring back leg-spinner Amit Mishra or hand a Test cap to rookie off-spinning allrounder Gurkeerat Mann.