Time for Indian batsmen to show spine against South Africa in Johannesburg
India face South Africa in the third Test in Johannesburg, starting on Wednesday. The Virat Kohli-led team is trailing the three-game series 0-2cricket Updated: Jan 23, 2018 21:57 IST
In these competitive times, ‘dead rubber’ and ‘playing for pride’ are age-old clichés that don’t hold much ground. India should believe they can extract something out of this series even after losing it in Centurion. For this team is too good to return home with the knowledge that the best they could do in South Africa was take 20 wickets twice. More significantly, India have never been whitewashed in South Africa and that is one record that the Proteas will be desperate to reset.
That is why a good outing with the bat is need of the hour for India in the third and final Test. What should give heart to India is that they have never lost at the Wanderers. The pitch however looks capable of throwing a spanner at their hopes. But it also should convince the management to take the unprecedented decision of dropping Ravichandran Ashwin as the sole spinner and play an extra batsman. That way, both Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane can play and Virat Kohli will have one less difficult call to make.
The only way Rohit won’t play in the third Test is if India opt for four pacers --- Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar --- with Hardik Pandya as the all-rounder and the fifth seamer. Given how Umesh Yadav sweated it out in the nets though, Bhuvneshwar’s place in the team isn’t assured. This being the last Test though, India could be tempted to go in with six batsmen, a wicketkeeper-batsman and four seamers. South Africa too are contemplating an all-seam attack, which means Keshav Maharaj could be dropped in favour of all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo or Theunis de Bruyn, adding more strength to their batting.
What isn’t important is how many batsmen are selected but their cumulative effort. At the pre-match press conference, Kohli had spoken about the responsibility each individual owned up to themselves about repeating mistakes. Cheteshwar Pujara is the first name on this list with two horrendous run outs at Centurion when India needed him to play a mature knock. Possibly the only player apart from Kohli whose place in the team was never in doubt, Pujara must not let his goodwill be sullied by confused batting.
But expect Rahane to make a big statement if he plays. For all the talk about his eye-popping average outside Asia, Rahane has just one Test to prove that the management had indeed erred in not picking him for the first two Tests. Also, a good show here will act as a one-point reference of current form when Kohli will contemplate on his eleven in England later this year.
On another seaming and bouncy pitch like Newlands, discipline is the buzzword at the Wanderers and India must take a cue from how South Africa grinded out their bowling at Centurion. Partnerships will again be the key and batsmen should be given the freedom to graft innings according to their own comfort. Only that can help India turn the corner and take home some brownie points.