JOHANNESBURG – While two of the three highest individual scores in the series between India and South Africa have been scored by touring batsmen, the Proteas have nevertheless still outbatted the Indians in the opening two Tests.
Virat Kohli’s 153 in Centurion and Hardik Pandya’s 93 at Newlands have both come in virtual isolation. There was little support for either of them in the first two Tests, and that has proved extremely costly for the tourists.
The defining batting performances in the first two Tests, both came in the shape of partnerships; Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers putting on 114 runs for the fourth wicket in the first innings in Cape Town, and then De Villiers and Dean Elgar combining for 141 for the third wicket in the second innings at Centurion.
India’s best partnership was 99 between Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the eighth wicket in the first innings at Newlands. However that partnership failed to put them ahead in the game, something that has turned into a theme for the tourists in this series. India have bowled well enough to win coach Ravi Shastri admitted, but they have failed with the bat. And while SA may be irritated that none of their batsmen have scored a hundred, they can point to those partnerships as being extremely influential in the outcome of the series.
Both teams are looking to strengthen their batting for the third Test at the Wanderers tomorrow.
Given how much time he has spent in the nets the last few days, it seems Ajinkya Rahane will finally be given a chance, probably at No 5, with Rohit Sharma, after top-scoring in the second innings at Centurion, shifting to No 6. It is understood, Ravi Ashwin may sit out, as India also seem set to play an all-seam attack
The major question regarding selection for the hosts is also whether or not to play a frontline spinner. SA have chosen not to do so in the last two Tests they’ve played at the “Bullring” and with the pitch still containing a thick grass covering, it seems unlikely Keshav Maharaj will start tomorrow.
“Kesh allows us to strike at the other end because he keeps it tight, but make no mistake, he’s a strike bowler,” said Vernon Philander. “He’s picked up vital wickets at key times. But the Wanderers is generally a ground where the seamers are the (main wicket takers).”
With Theunis de Bruyn likely to slot in at No 6, Quinton de Kock, who has been out of form for most of the summer, will drop down to 7, a position in which he has an excellent record, and Philander goes to 8. It’s not a demotion that would bother Philander too much.
“Seven or eight it doesn’t really matter, although when you bat at No 7, you take on a bit more responsibility, but I think we are all up for the challenge. It worked well in England, but not so much here, because of conditions,” Philander said in reference to the second Test in Nottingham last year when he produced a magnificent individual performance with both bat and ball to help SA win that Test.
Tomorrow's match will be Philander’s 50th Test.