INDIA spinner Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates with team-mates after dismissing South Africa’s Theunis de Bruyn on the fifth day of the first Test on Sunday. Photo: Mahesh Kumar/AP

JOHANNESBURG – Pandurang Salgaonkar won’t field, bowl or face a ball in the second Test between South Africa and India in Pune, but he will be a central figure throughout the match.

The 69-year-old is the curator at the Gahunje Stadium and for reasons which are entirely understandable, he doesn’t want to talk much about the pitch for the second Test that starts there tomorrow.

Salgaonkar has had a colourful and controversial few years as the person in charge of pitch preparation at the Gahunje Stadium

The surface he prepared for the ground’s only other Test was described as “poor” by the ICC who issued an official warning to the BCCI about the venue. That Test, in February 2017, involving Australia, finished in three days with spinners claiming 31 wickets.

Salgaonkar blamed the India team’s management and a BCCI appointed curator for interfering in the preparation of the pitch.

Eight months later, Salgaonkar was caught in a media sting, when he apparently allowed a small group of people to tamper with the pitch before an ODI with New Zealand. Salgaonkar incurred a six-month suspension.

However, he is back preparing the surface for the second Test, and is understandably wary around reporters telling the Times of India this week: “I won’t be talking to the media about the pitch or anything before or during the Test match.”

Except, he kinda did. “Everything is perfect at the ground. There are no problems whatsoever due to rains,” Salgaonkar added.

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In fact, the weather may yet play a role in team selection. It’s been wet the past few weeks in the western state of Maharashtra and rain has been forecast for most of the Test match. Whether that means the teams choose to tinker with their line-ups, especially the respective attacks, will be the main debating points before tomorrow.

South Africa are more likely to fiddle. India’s quartet did a sterling job in the heat of Visakhapatnam, dominating with spin in the first innings through Ravi Ashwin, and then pace and reverse swing from Mohammed Shami in the second. In both innings, Ravi Jadeja’s left-arm spin provided valuable support.

The SA attack was less successful, claiming just 11 wickets in the first Test, the majority of those the result of Indian batsmen chasing quick runs in both innings. The three-prong spin attack was brave but lacking in penetration and in fact, the most dangerous South Africa looked was when Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada were operating.

Below: Watch as Senuran Muthusamy reflects on the first Test vs India & looks ahead towards the second match in Pune.

That does not mean South Africa will abandon spin bowling as an option in Pune, just that an extra seamer might be a better wicket taking option. If weather conditions in Pune recently have impacted on pitch preparations and not allowed Salgaonkar and his employees to leave the surface as dry as the one in Visakhapatnam, then a third seamer - Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje - would be a viable option.

That would mean leaving out one of Dane Piedt or Senuran Muthusamy. Neither set the first Test alight with the ball and in fact, Muthusamy only bowled three overs in India’s second innings.

It’s his batting that earned praise from South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis and if the management deem that facing over 200 balls on debut was of greater value than Piedt’s two performances with the ball and his second innings 50, Muthusamy will get another go in the second Test.

The other area that may bear consideration for change is at No 3 where Theunis de Bruyn played two horrible shots in the first Test and may see his place go to Zubayr Hamza.

@shockerhess


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