JOHANNESBURG - What changes, if any, will India make following that 72-run defeat in the enthralling first Test at Newlands?
It’s a strange situation for captain Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri. Kohli quite rightly pointed out that India were never out of the contest in Cape Town and at various stages bested South Africa. But it is the nature of such things that as the team that lost, it is India who have to find solutions if they're to remain in contention in the series.
Aspects of their personnel will be scrutinised. Among the bowlers, the need for change is probably less than with the batsmen.
Although Jasprit Bumrah’s selection came as a surprise, he showed up well, certainly improving from the first to the second innings and picking up four wickets.
Mohammed Shami, after a slow start in the first innings, was also close to his best in the second, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar was the star with his nagging accuracy and movement off the seam. Hardik Pandya, the exuberant young all-rounder, was the perfect foil.
The Indians may ask themselves, given how well they bowled in South Africa’s second innings, if all of them are needed, because that will relate to how they strengthen the area of their game where they were weakest - their batting.
For all of Pandya’s endeavour in the first innings and Ravi Ashwin’s grit in the second, India still look a batsman short.
Rohit Sharma looks out of his depth away from home and he is certainly not a Test No 5, but perhaps dropping him down one spot and calling in Ajinkya Rahane is a direction India could go.
Grateful for all your wishes and support throughout the first test. Disappointed that we fell short the way we did. We will come back harder and stronger in Pretoria! #SAvIND pic.twitter.com/LUCJtTcx73
Rahane’s recent form is poor but he is a class act outside India, and while recent form, according to Kohli, was the basis for Rahane’s non-selection at Newlands, historic form may be a factor that can’t be ignored at Centurion.
Rahane averages 53.44 outside India and has scored three of his nine Test hundreds in Australia, New Zealand and England. On India’s tour to South Africa in 2013, he scored two half-centuries in four innings.
Accommodating Rahane, if India pick six batsmen, would mean dropping a seamer, most likely Bumrah, and while that would be harsh on the 24-year-old, the security of six batsmen to combat South Africa’s acknowledged physical approach is something the tourists have to seriously consider.
The other selection issue is opener Shikhar Dhawan. The left-hander, 32, struggles against the short ball and is a liability.