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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

India vs South Africa 3rd Test Preview: Virat Kohli and Co primed for series sweep

Ind vs Sa: The last time South Africa played Tests in India was in 2015 and they lost the four-match series 3-0.

cricket Updated: Oct 19, 2019 07:25 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Ranchi
Ranchi: India Captain Virat Kohli with Rohit Sharma and Coach Ravi Shastri during a practice session.
Ranchi: India Captain Virat Kohli with Rohit Sharma and Coach Ravi Shastri during a practice session.(PTI)
         

As Virat Kohli batted on the practice pitch next to the main strip on Friday, Wriddhiman Saha stood behind and watched. This was before the India wicket-keeper honed his batting at that net. “I was trying to gauge the bounce in the wicket,” said Saha. “There was a bit of uneven bounce on the practice pitch,” he said, to another question later during Friday’s media interaction before the third and final Test of the Freedom Series against South Africa, starting at the JSCA International Stadium Complex here on Saturday.

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Saha’s comment on the bounce could make South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis’ plan of putting “big runs on the board in the first innings” more difficult than it already is. South Africa’s score of 431 the first time they batted in Visakhapatnam is the only time they have crossed 300 in this series. Twice, they have scored less than what Mayank Agarwal (215) and Virat Kohli (254 not out) did in an innings.

“We have been under pressure as a batting unit all the time,” said du Plessis. That may not change as this Test progresses because he said on a pitch that could become dry and crusty, reverse swing and spin—South Africa have struggled against both—will be a factor.

South Africa haven’t won the toss once—“probably we will change and have someone else go,” said du Plessis—and have not taken 10 wickets in an innings in this series. Pushing away thoughts about the flight back home in one week’s time therefore might not be easy but that is what du Plessis said South Africa want to avoid over the course of this Test.

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“The challenge is more mental. How can batsmen be hungry for big runs and how we can get better as a bowling attack? If we do that, we will compete with India… We came here last time with a very strong team and still found it challenging,” he said.

The last time South Africa played Tests in India was in 2015 and they lost the four-match series 3-0. “So, it is not all doom and gloom. It is about trying to improve. We have a lot of young guys and they need to make sure that whatever they get off this experience, when they come back in three-four years’ time, they are better and stronger for it,” said du Plessis.

South Africa could make a few changes, said the captain. Among them could be batsman Zubayr Humza, the 100th player to represent the country since it returned to international cricket. With opener Aiden Markram having dented more than his reputation in Pune, South Africa could even relook at the batting order, said du Plessis. They will also be without left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, who got his 100th wicket in Pune, because of a shoulder injury.

Since December 2012, when England won a four-Test series 2-1, India have not lost the next 11 series at home. “They (India) have been much better than us, much better than any team coming here,” said du Plessis.

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“We are 2-0 up in this series, we will try and make it 3-0,” said Saha, whose stellar comeback to the team after a long injury lay-off has been as much a talking point in this series as Ravichandran Ashwin’s spin punch, the arrival of Rohit Sharma as a Test opener and that of Agarwal as his partner, the continued excellence of Kohli’s batsmanship and the lack of contest.

This being part of the World Test Championship means the winners can add 40 points to their tally. At 200 points after four Tests—including 120 points for winning the series in the West Indies—India lead the nine-team standings, followed by New Zealand and Sri Lanka on 60 points each after two Tests.

The only time India played a Test here, in 2017, Saha, who will be 35 on October 24, got 117; the last of his three hundreds. “I have a good memory of that match,” he said.

Sourav Ganguly, India cricket board’s president-in-waiting, has said Saha needs to improve his batting if he has to have a long Test career. “As a wicket-keeper, I try and get some time in the middle and when I do, I try to build a partnership, score a 50 or so. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not,” said Saha, responding to the comment.

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The last Test in Ranchi saw Steve Smith and Glen Maxwell score centuries before Australia were dismissed for 451. After India responded with a massive first innings of their own— 603/9 declared riding on Saha’s ton, Cheteswar Pujara’s 202 and half-centuries from KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja—Australia, 63/4 and with Smith gone, forced a draw through a fifth-wicket partnership between Shaun Marsh (53) and Peter Handscomb (72).

If South Africa can show similar fighting spirit, it will mean a more pleasant flight back home.

However, to know what they have sorely missed on this tour, the visitors only need to scan the scorecard of their last victory in India, at Nagpur in 2010. The last of their five wins in India, from 18 Tests played, by an innings no less, featured Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 253, Jacques Kallis’s 173, and Dale Steyn’s 10-wicket haul.