For South Africa, this is their own Gabbatoir. Since the venue started hosting Tests since 1995, they have lost only twice in 26 matches.
Published: 24th December 2021 08:27 PM | Last Updated: 24th December 2021 08:38 PM | A+A A-
Virat Kohli is hoping to lead India to their first Test series win in South Africa (Photo | AP)
CHENNAI: Supersport Park in Centurion isn’t an intimidating venue. Apart from the pavilion end that accommodates the dressing room, the grass embankments with a few chalets on the side only make it a beautiful venue for cricket. For South Africa, this is their own Gabbatoir. Since the venue started hosting Tests since 1995, they have lost only twice in 26 matches (the infamous Test against England where both teams forfeited an innings each and a match against Australia). Also, there have only been three drawn games meaning the pitch has consistently produced results. In fact, only three of the last 11 Tests have gone to the last day.
Unlike Brisbane, where teams struggle to get used to the bounce, the Centurion track offers a spongy bounce, coupled with pace as well as seam movement. That’s why batters find this a challenging place. Quite literally, these conditions are what you call tailor-made for the hosts, who are known for their hostility through speed and seam movement.
As the visitors begin their quest for a maiden series win in South Africa — the only country where they are without one — they have their task cut out. Their two matches at this venue have resulted in big defeats and conditions remain tilted in favour of the bowlers, seamers to be precise. Though the hosts do not have the batting might of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, their bowling unit, led by Kagiso Rabada, is capable of turning on the heat even in the absence of Anrich Nortje. For a team that is definitely not as strong as India on paper, they couldn’t have asked for a better venue to start the series. Of the 836 wickets at this venue, only 110 have been picked up by spinners. The pacers have got a wicket every 51.2 balls. And over the last four years in South Africa, there have been only 15 centuries in 18 Tests, as the hosts moved more and more towards pitches that aide their seamers.
So India know what they are up against. Four years ago, they started off on a bright note in Cape Town before their attack lost the plot in the second session. This is why India know they need to put their best foot forward. All said and done about Centurion, as much as Virat Kohli & Co have progressed in the last four years, their opponents, thanks to the transition period, have been on a downward slide losing five of their last eight home Tests, including three on the trot to England before the pandemic set in. This is why it is fair to say that if India play to their potential, they are in with a chance of making history on South African soil for the first time.
“We’ve played in Australia where the pitches are fast and bouncy, but here it can be a bit spongy in the first couple of days, and then it starts to quicken up. When I played last time, each time the wicket was a bit difficult. You had to understand and adjust according to that, so that becomes a huge challenge for both batters and bowlers,” India’s vice-captain KL Rahul said.
In 2018, despite being in with a chance to win the series, India didn’t really pick the right combination in the first two Tests, as they even benched Ajinkya Rahane – their best overseas batter at that point – for Rohit Sharma. This time the story is a lot different with all things again pointing out to India sticking to their five-bowler strategy that has helped them win series in Australia and take 2-1 lead in England. Though the absence of all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja will affect the balance, India are looking at playing R Ashwin and Shardul Thakur at No 7 and 8 followed by Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj. Rishabh Pant will take the gloves with the team yet to decide on the make-up of the middle-order.
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