After an Indian victory in Centurion for the first time, the South Africa vs India test series could well be decided in the second test at the Wanderers. But South Africa played well in stretches in the first test and may well feel the scoreline in the first test flattered the visitors. Nonetheless, India will no doubt be confident of starting the new year as they finished the old. As always, we here at Last Word on Cricket are offering our preview and prediction. But who will come out on top?
South Africa vs India Second Test Preview and Prediction
2021 was some year for India. They wrapped up a second consecutive away win in Australia thanks to a superb performance at the Gabba, inflicting Australia’s first defeat in over 30 years at that venue in the process, before dismissing England 3-1 at home. They did suffer a blot on their copybook by losing the World Test Championship final to New Zealand, but it should not be overlooked just how formidable the Black Caps are in seam-friendly conditions like those found in England.
Besides which they bounced back from that disappointment quickly enough by taking a 2-1 series lead over England before a positive covid test in their camp brough an early end to the tour. After the T20 World Cup, India returned to action against New Zealand on home turf, drawing the first test in Kanpur before recording a handsome 372 run win in Mumbai. Then, as mentioned above, India beat South Africa in the first match of this series by 113 runs.
South Africa, meanwhile, have played rather less Test cricket than their hosts. The test in Centurion was their first since completing a 2-0 series victory over the West Indies away from home. That was a very encouraging display from the Proteas as they won both games comfortably, the first by an innings and 63 runs and the second by 158 runs, though it must be said they were helped by poor batting displays from their hosts in both matches.
South Africa will be without their former captain Quentin de Kock after the wicketkeeper-batter’s decision to retire from Test cricket, which he announced after the first Test of this series. That is a potentially significant blow considering de Kock’s ability with the bat. Kyle Verreynne will almost certainly replace him with the gloves and in the middle order. The remainder of the batting order will likely remain unchanged, with Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram set to open.
Keegan Peterson and Rassie van der Dussen, both of whom could use a score, will bat at three and four, whilst Temba Bavuma, probably South Africa’s player of the match in the first test, will come in at five. Wiaan Mulder, despite a disappointing return with bat and ball in Centurion, will probably keep his place as the only available all-rounder. Duanne Olivier’s return may cost either Keshav Maharaj or Marco Jansen their spot, however. Jansen impressed on debut, but going all-seam would be a big call. Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are virtual locks meanwhile.
For India, changes seem unlikely. After all, why fix what isn’t broken. Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul both impressed at the top of the order, with Rahul’s century in the first innings laying the foundations for India’s ultimately comfortable victory. Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane all come into the match short of runs, but captain Kohli is just about untouchable (at least in the red-ball side) and the management have shown little desire to move on from Pujara or Rahane either.
The excellent Rishabh Pant will bat at six and don the gloves, whilst Ravi Ashwin, who is just six wickets short of Kapil Dev’s total of 434, will come in at seven. Shardul Thakur was not particularly threatening in Centurion, but will likely play again, in part to stiffen what is otherwise a very long tail in Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Siraj, all of whom have been excellent with the ball but far from it with the bat.
There is no doubt that India deserved to win the first test, but it is still hard to draw too many conclusions from that victory. They batted on the only day where the pitch was remotely batter-friendly and benefitted from evident rustiness on the part of the South African attack, who hardly threatened at all for most of that day. With an innings under their belt and a less placid pitch, the Proteas looked a different beast entirely in the second dig.
Olivier will also surely have an impact if, as expected, he makes his return to the South African set up. He has taken wickets at a remarkable clip at the Wanderers – 24 at 11.25 in his last three first-class games at the venue. But both teams have formidable attacks, there is not much between them there. Where India might just be able to carve out a decisive advantage is with the bat, particularly if Kohli can finally rediscover his touch. It will be close, and could go either way, but India are in the habit of winning these sorts of games.
Prediction: India win.
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