India’s time so far in the rainbow nation for the three-match Test series can be evaluated from two perspectives. From the ‘glass half empty’ viewpoint, one could be a tad disappointed, as the boys in blue suffered their first-ever Test defeat at the Wanderers in Johannesburg in their previous outing.
However, if you are among the ‘glass half full’ lot, you will find yourself optimistic, as Rahul Dravid’s side are on the verge of what could be India’s first Test series triumph in South African soil.
India won the first Test by a convincing margin of 113 runs, which also marked the first instance of India’s triumph at Centurion. A 7-wicket defeat in the second Test might have hurt their morale, but one of the things 2021 taught us well is that it could a fatal error in judgement to count India out whilst they are playing in whites.
With the series level at 1-1, it is needless to say that everything will be at stake when India and South Africa will lock horns at Cape Town for the third Test on 11th January. What transpires on the pitch is what will make the actual difference, but before that, Dravid and this think tank will have to solve a few conundrums before the first ball of the match is bowled.
The Indian team management is currently faced with two selection dilemmas. Firstly, they will need to pick one from Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav to replace Mohammed Siraj, who is unavailable for this match after sustaining an injury in Johannesburg,
The second, and perhaps the more important dilemma of the two will be the selection of a batter who will have to make room for Virat Kohli. The former Indian captain is back in contention after missing the second Test with a back spasm, as his inclusion is set to spur the axing of one among three possible candidates.
Let us have a look at three players Virat Kohli could replace for this match:
1. Hanuma Vihari
His form with the bat might lack consistency at times, but it seems Hanuma Vihari’s fate is great at being consistent. He started last year with a resilient knock of unbeaten 23 from 161 deliveries, which helped India somehow salvage a draw against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. However, just as when many would have thought his place in the Indian Test XI is secured with that knock, the 28-year-old missed the historic Test at Gabba with a hamstring tear.
A year later, we might see a similar storyline unfolding at Cape Town, with Vihari expected to play the bridesmaid yet again. He got a chance to feature in Johannesburg Test only because Kohli was unavailable, but played his part well as he scored an impressive 40 not out in the second innings, albeit his struggle went in vain not long afterwards.
In a bid to evade avoidable complications, the Indian think tank could opt for Plan A – replacing Kohli with the player who originally replaced him, meaning Vihari will have to lose his place despite not doing much wrong at Wanderers.
2. Cheteshwar Pujara
The next two mentions on our list would perhaps have had ranked higher in terms of odds of getting the axe, but with commendable knocks in the second innings of the second Test, it seems that the duo will live to fight another day.
Let us first discuss the case of Cheteshwar Pujara. With only one 40+ score in the two-match Test series against New Zealand, he could easily have found himself on the bench for the first Test at Centurion.
He did not, but with scores of 16 and 0 in the first Test, Pujara did not help his own case either. After scoring only 3 runs in the first innings at Johannesburg, it seems that Pujara has managed to extend his stay in the Indian Test XI, so be it temporarily, with a 140-ball 53 in the second innings.
Having lost skipper KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal early, India needed someone to stabilize the innings and the 33-year-old from Gujarat obliged, building a 111-run third-wicket stand with the next mention of our list.
3. Ajinkya Rahane
Around this time last year, Ajinkya Rahane the skipper led India to one of its most riveting away Test triumphs, at the Gabba. Since then, Rahane has scored only three centuries and now finds himself flirting with the bench in what accurately resembles one of those relationships which looks bound to fail at some point, only to miraculously trudge around for eternity.
After getting dismissed for a duck in the first innings at Johannesburg, which also was his fifteenth below 30 score in his last twenty Test innings, the sun was not particularly shining down on the international career of the 33-year-old.
Yet, like Pujara, he managed to buy himself time with a 105-ball 58 in the second innings. His and Pujara’s knocks came when the chips were down and India were struggling at 44/2, which could be enough to secure a place in the playing XI for Johannesburg.
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