India has broken Fort Centurion in their attempt to conquer the final frontier. Now it’s over for the Wanderers in Johannesburg from Monday, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this is India’s fortress in a foreign land.
In their 30 years of touring history in South Africa, this is a place where they have never lost a test match and there have been milestones galore. Be it coach Rahul DravidIndia’s first test tone in 1997 or India’s first test victory in South Africa in 2006, India has always been a force in this place where swing and nail bowlers have had an impact.
Even though Virat Kohli‘s dream race abroad started with a win over Wanderers in 2018, and the team is now on the swing of history at its favorite venue. “While grounds like Newlands and Centurion help the short length of the South African pacers, the ideal Johannesburg length is fuller. That’s why India has had such great success at this venue.” Prasanna Agoram, the former video analyst from the South African team who worked with the national side for 11 years, told TOI from Johannesburg.
There are still three days until the test match starts, but Prasanna informed that the course has a lot of grass – so far. “Even today I was at Wanderers … maybe a bit of the grass will be shaved off over the next three days, but there will still be a lot in it for nail and swing bowlers,” the current high-performing manager for Johannesburg men’s and women’s teams said.
The Indian team performed a complete show in Centurion and everyone played a role. But Prasanna believes there could be a case for Umesh Yadav – who bowls a greater length at a good pace – to play in this test match ahead of Shardul Thakur. “The lengths that Umesh bowls and the pace he generates are absolutely ideal for Wanderers. I would be surprised if he does not play this game,” the analyst, who worked with people like AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, said.
But it is common knowledge that Kohli prefers all-rounder on his team because it gives him flexibility. Also, the fact that the second test starts within four days of the first may give Kohli something to think about the workload of his two leading pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. Bumrah had suffered an ankle sprain during the first test, and although he gave everything after recovering, Kohli will not take chances with his fitness, even if there is a hint of doubt.
Could it be We have in?
The Wanderers course does not always help spinners, and given Kohli’s mindset, he may be tempted to go with four frontline pacers if all four are fit. In such a situation, it becomes interesting to see if Kohli decides to play Hanuma Vihari in front of R Ashwin. Ashwin got the last two wickets in Centurion, but a spinner job in Johannesburg could be limited to maintaining a good over-rate, and Vihari could possibly do that with his 8-10 overs offpsin in a day.
If Vihari plays, India will have the pillow as the extra batsman until No. 7, making it easier for Kohli to go after Umesh ahead of Shardul. “Yes Vihari has been here and played for the India A team and it will not be a bad idea. But it is never easy to drop a spinner of Ashwin’s quality,” said Prasanna.
SA’s challenge of filling Quinton’s void
Quinton de Kock announced his retirement from test cricket on Thursday, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. He would, as it is, have missed the next two test matches because his wife is waiting and he had asked for paternity leave.
South Africa lack a bit of experience in their batting and it would be interesting to see if they go with Ryan Rikleton, who has yet to make his Test debut, or Kyle Verynne, who has played two Tests, as wicketkeeper.
“Rikleton is a good batsman and has spent a couple of centuries with the Wanderers this season in domestic cricket,” said Prasanna.