There will be plenty of bounce on offer at Centurion © Getty Images
There will be plenty of bounce on offer at Centurion © Getty Images

Shoaib Akhtar steams in. Sachin Tendulkar takes his near-perfect stance. Shoaib hurls one outside off-stump at 151 kmph and Tendulkar slashes it over backward point, into the stands. The crowd erupts, so does Ravi Shastri’s decibels. A decade and half back Centurion gave Indian cricket one of its finest moments. Tendulkar’s 98 annihilated Pakistan out of the 2003 World Cup.

Isn’t YouTube the greatest invention ever? Moments like these deserve exaggeration.

Eight years later, Tendulkar would later score his 50th Test hundred at the same venue but could not prevent the sinking Indian ship.

Can Virat Kohli’s men add another glorious Centurion moment in the annals of Indian cricket?

Welcome to SuperSport Park, Centurion, the venue for the second India-South Africa Test. 

***

Going into the second session of Day Four of the first Test, India may have sniffed the unlikely. They were 208 runs away from going one up in the series. They had 10 wickets in hand and South Africa did not have Dale Steyn.

India vs South Africa, 2nd Test, statistical preview: The great Centurion fortress beckons
India vs South Africa, 2nd Test, statistical preview: The great Centurion fortress beckons

Two-hundred odd runs among 11 men? Kohli scores them alone, doesn’t he?

Up against the finest pace attack of recent times, India skittled out for 135.

The track

The Day Four track was lively at Cape Town. Bryan Bloy— the chief groundsman at the SuperSport Park — was handed a message by South African team management to ‘keep it lively’. He responded to the home side’s needs.

“Well you will get pace and bounce. That is the true nature of the wicket here at SuperSport Park. You can also expect a bit of sideways movement, but primarily pace and bounce.

“Going into the later stages of the game, you might also start seeing some invariable bounce as it is very dry here and that would or could make the pitch crack up. But that would not really be for assistance to the spinners. Wickets at SuperSport Park over the years have turned, not that it has not, but that would be more from the rough created by the bowlers,” Bloy told CricketNext.

A payback for Mohali and Nagpur 2015?

In quest for an Indian opinion, I phoned fellow journalist and former CricketCountry employee Sandipan Banerjee.

“The surface has brownish look so I am not expecting the same movement as Newlands. There will be bounce though. Spin might play a role later,” pointed Banerjee.

Image courtesy: Sandipan Banerjee
Image courtesy: Sandipan Banerjee

“… We need to have intent because the kind of bowling attack they have – especially on these pitches they get extra bounce and they get extra pace off the wicket – you can’t be in a zone of not having intent and see off 35-40 overs. You need to find the perfect balance to do well in South Africa especially where there is more bounce.

“You can’t just stand there and take whatever is coming your way and not have intent. You might get out but it’s important to keep coming at the bowler and making them feel, ‘if you make an error I am going to score’.”

How seriously will India take Virat Kohli’s words? Kohli spoke of ‘intent’ after India’s 72-run defeat at Cape Town. ‘Intent’ is a keyword and the stepping stone to success in South African conditions.

If we take out Hardik Pandya’s 95-ball 93 from India’s first innings, the run-rate reads 2.

Kepler Wessels nods to Kohli’s assessment.

“Well your mindset is going to be that you have to be physically very brave. So you’re not going to mind if you get hit because that’s part of the job. Secondly, you’ve got to look to score against them. You can’t just play a survival game. You’ve got to defend well, yes but you also got to attack whenever you possibly can,” the former South African captain told Wisden.

Between Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay, they scored 44 runs in the Test off 144 balls. Now that is not the intent Kohli is talking about.

(Note: Pujara and Pandya played 92 and 95 balls respectively, while the former got 26 the latter belted 93)

Though Wessells wasn’t too critical on Pujara as that is the latter’s style of play and stressed on other areas where India can up the ante.

India vs South Africa, 2nd Test: Key battles for Centurion face-off
India vs South Africa, 2nd Test: Key battles for Centurion face-off

“You need a guy like that in your line-up. If you’ve got some flamboyant guys at the other end, then you need a one or two of those guys. But I think going forward, they’ll probably look to run more aggressively between the wickets, look to maximise the bad delivery a little but more and look to maybe not just survive but score as well. Not quite to the extent of Hardik Pandya but with that thinking process,” he added.

(Note: AB de Villiers was the most successful batsman at Newlands scoring 100 runs in the game. They came at a strike rate of 75. That is the ‘intent’ that Kohli desires.)

Vijay’s overseas strike rate reads 45.2 while Pujara scores a run and half lesser. For both of them, the strike rate drops down to 38 in South Africa. The go-steady approach has not worked in South Africa. For that matter, Rahul Dravid averaged 29.71 in South Africa and the runs came at a strike rate of 37.

Can India afford Vijay and Pujara in the top three?

Allan Donald recently said that South Africa will be a pleased unit if India drop Shikhar Dhawan and continue to bench Ajinkya Rahane. These two, along with Rohit Sharma should ideally be in the XI for their stroke making ability. Why not there be one stabiliser at the top? Pujara has opened in toughest of Colombo surfaces and carried his bat.

You do not fancy your chances to bat for very long against South Africa’s pace attack, and on such lively surfaces. So the need is to maximise the scoring opportunities in your limited stay and if it’s your day, nothing merrier. Ask Pandya.

Author’s India XI

India: Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

That’s what I would have wanted but does that matter?

South Africa’s fort

Starting in 1995 South Africa have played 22 Tests at Centurion, winning 17 and losing 2. The odds are heavily in stacked against India. Hashim Amla and AB average 80.13 and 63.60 here respectively. Quinton de Kock has a hundred and two fifties from his five innings here.

Vernon Philander has 22 wickets here from 5 Tests at 16.95. If that is not alarming enough Kagiso Rabada has 18 wickets from 2 Tests at 14.44.

Centurion has been a fort of sorts for South Africa. India will have to prove the No. 1 tag if they go on to breach it.

Likely XIs

KL Rahul got a brief hit at the nets and Dhawan was amongst the last to turn up for batting. This is a fair indication that India are set to bench Dhawan in favour of Rahul.

The bounce at Centurion will prompt India to go for Ishant Sharma but whom do they drop? Bhuvneshwar was the pick of the bowlers at Newlands while Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah impressed in the second innings.

They have the option of Ravindra Jadeja but what has Ravichandran Ashwin done to be dropped in first place? If the management go for an all pace attack, Ashwin might be sacrificed for an extra batsman but wouldn’t that be too much of a risk?

Rohit and Rahane both got an extensive net session on Thursday.

India’s likely XI: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma/Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah/Ishant Sharma.

South Africa have their side sorted. They are spoilt for options to replace Steyn. Duanne Olivier has been exceptional in domestic circuit and deserves the opportunity, Lungi Ngidi is promising but Chris Morris may eclipse the duo to the spot.

Morris bowled a lot at the nets. Plus, Morris brings his batting prowess to the struggling South African middle-order.

South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Chris Morris/Duane Olivier. Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel.

Squads

India: Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Parthiv Patel (wk)

South Africa: Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Andile Phehlukwayo, Duanne Olivier, Lungisani Ngidi

Time: 1330 IST