India spent a large chunk of 2021 breaching fortresses around the world. They now begin 2022 at a venue that’s been something of an away fortress for them.
India have never lost a Test match at the Wanderers. They have two wins and three draws here, and one of those draws – in January 1997 – could have been a win had rain not intervened on the final day.
It’s hard to say if it’s just a statistical oddity or if something deeper is at work, but in either case, this will be a slightly different Wanderers Test. Never before have India gone into one as favourites, but they do so now, while already 1-0 up in the series. They’re expected to win, and to wrap up their first-ever series victory in South Africa.
They’re that good.
But South Africa are still the home side, and while India were magnificent in Centurion, they also won a crucial toss that allowed them to bat on the only day of the Test match on which you’d rather have been a batter than a bowler. South Africa bowled poorly on that first day, particularly in the first session, but this was also partly down to rustiness. Lungi Ngidi, for example, came into the Test match without any red-ball cricket since June and any serious cricket since October, but was a vastly improved force from the second session on, finishing with match figures of 8 for 102.
The gap between these two sides in South African conditions, then, may not be as big as it appeared last week.
The gap between the two sides, just alluded to, could grow even narrower – notwithstanding the loss of Quinton de Kock – if Duanne Olivier returns to South Africa’s attack. Olivier has taken 24 wickets at 11.25 – eleven point two five – in his last three first-class games at the Wanderers.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane looked in reasonable and excellent nick in Centurion, respectively, but ended up with three soft dismissals and a top score of 48 between them. While it seems unlikely that either will miss out at the Wanderers, a continued lack of runs could put their places under scrutiny.
Olivier, who missed the first Test owing to a hamstring niggle and the aftereffects of Covid-19, is expected to be available for selection. This leaves South Africa with a decision to make over who to leave out. Marco Jansen wouldn’t have made his debut in Centurion had Olivier played, but he showed, particularly in the second innings, why his bouncy left-arm seam is rated so highly. Wiaan Mulder didn’t do much with bat or ball in the first Test, but playing a specialist bowler at No. 7 could be a gamble against this India attack. Keshav Maharaj, meanwhile, went wicketless in the first innings and unused in the second, but are South Africa prepared to go all-seam, and will the conditions in Johannesburg merit it? Kyle Verreyne, meanwhile, is set to take over the retired de Kock’s keeping gloves.
South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Keegan Petersen, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Wiaan Mulder/Marco Jansen, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Keshav Maharaj, 10 Duanne Olivier, 11 Lungi Ngidi.
India don’t have too much cause to change a winning combination, but they might think of picking either a sixth batter or a fourth genuine quick in place of Shardul Thakur, whose two first-innings wickets in Centurion flattered his bowling somewhat, and who only sent down five of India’s 68 overs in the second innings.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 R Ashwin, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Mohammed Siraj.