Virat Kohli (R) and Vernon Philander's battle may determine the outcome of Centurion Test © Getty Images
Virat Kohli (R) and Vernon Philander’s battle may determine the outcome of Centurion Test © Getty Images

The Cape Town Test was a close affair. The action folded inside three days (Day Three was entirely washed out), South Africa hold edge with a 1-0 scoreline. India  have to find answers, and hit back soon before hosts wrap up the three-match series at Centurion. The talking points remain: will India’s top order struggle against the balls outside off stump? Will Ajinkya Rahane continue to be overlooked? Is the team think tank in favour of replacing Shikhar Dhawan with KL Rahul?

Let us walk through some of the key battles which may unfold at Centurion…

The top order saga

Much attention was given to India and South Africa’s pace battery ahead of the tour opener. While India bowlers fared well, though slightly behind their counterparts, the onus falls on their batsmen to respond. India were 92 for 7 and 82 for 7 at Cape Town, and need to revamp their approach.

The common mode of Indian batsmen’s dismissal was poking at deliveries outside off stump. Murali Vijay was outdone playing with hard hands. Virat Kohli and Dhawan were rattled by extra pace. Cheteshwar Pujara was caught behind on both occasions, and Rohit Sharma looked out of sorts. Will the famed Indian batting line-up stand tall at Centurion?

For that to happen, India batters have to follow former player, Chandu Borde’s advise: “Leave the ball that is pitched outside the off stump. Many of our batsmen were either caught behind or were caught in the slips. Therefore they should change their technique in such a way that anything that pitches outside the off stump, they should try and leave in the beginning and once you get set to that bounce and pace then play the shots.”

In addition, India would have to counterattack smartly, as shown by Hardik Pandya, which seems the only way out to survive against a fiery pace attack.

KL Rahul vs Shikhar Dhawan

Rahul looks certain for the second Test. Having missed out on the series opener, Rahul batted for long hours in the nets prior to Centurion Test. His inclusion will surely lead to Dhawan’s departure. Let us quickly analyse what both players bring into equation.

Dhawan: The left-hander is a confidence player. He is backed by the team management, and will be eager to turn the tides in Centurion. He looked in control and in positive mindset before perishing in both the outings at Cape Town. If he gets going, he can add runs at a brisk rate. Hence, he is termed as an ‘impact player.’ For the very same reason, even Allan Donald wants India to continue with Dhawan.

Rahul: The opener is technically more sound. Vijay and Rahul make a solid opening pair, wherein the latter can score quickly after settling in. Rahul’s biggest advantage is the ability to see off the new ball, edging ahead of Dhawan. Unlike Dhawan, Rahul has also been impressive overseas. Nonetheless, Rahul’s conversion rate (from fifty to big hundreds) isn’t impressive.

Ajinkya Rahane vs Rohit Sharma

The Mumbaikars are best of friends off the field. Despite all this, the duo face regular competition in order to feature in the playing XI. While Rohit was entrusted for the first Test owing to his form, he disappointed. Rohit looked out of his comfort zone, and was trying hard to stick hard. There was application, but the method bore ineffective results.

Rahane, on the other hand, averages 69.66 in South Africa. His omission — despite a lean phase — made little sense. The two were seen batting in the net sessions, but will most likely fight for a spot. The odds have tilted towards Rahane. Will India give Rohit another chance or look towards Rahane?

Chris Morris factor

With Dale Steyn’s injury, Chris Morris is certain to replace him. South Africa have some issues with their top and lower order, but their pace battery still looks promising on paper: Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Morris. With the pitch expected to be lively,  Morris’ extra bounce and lateral movement will be handy. In addition, Morris’ inclusion will only add to the lower order’s strength.

Philander vs Kohli

If India play Australia, Kohli and Mitchell Starc face-off is much awaited. Similarly, Kohli and Anderson clash is looked upon in India-England encounters. Philander’s current form (over 100 scalps at home) puts him ahead of Kohli.

“It was probably two-and-a-half overs of away-swingers and then the one back at him (Kohli). It was definitely a plan to keep him quiet, and also to drag him across to make sure that when you do bowl the other one, he is on the other side of the off-stump,” stated Philander after dismissing Kohli at Newlands. Being a quick learner, Kohli will be on his toes against Philander.

The battle may well determine which side will have the final laugh in Centurion.