India will be aiming to clinch the series against South Africa ahead of the second Test at the MCA Stadium in Pune. (Photo Credit: Twitter)
Rohit Sharma and Mayank Agarwal shone with the bat. Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Shami wrecked havoc with the ball. These five players played a massive part in India's big win against South Africa in the Vizag Test. Rohit, making yet another comeback in the Test arena, responded in grand style with a century in each innings, joining Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in a prestigious list. He also blasted 13 sixes, the most by a player in Tests as South Africa's spinners, expected to be the key in conditions made for them were rendered ineffective.
Like Rohit, Mayank Agarwal also capitalised and notched up his maiden double ton. His strokeplay and aggression matched Rohit and their 317-run stand meant South Africa always played catch-up. Ashwin and Jadeja were expected to be the key in these conditions and they did not disappoint, with both taking eight and six wickets respectively.
The South Africans showed plenty of spark, with Quinton de Kock and Dean Elgar slamming centuries. However, in the second innings, they were blown away by Shami's reverse swing and it took a fifty from Dane Piedt and a 91-run stand with Senuran Muthusamy for South Africa to avoid total humiliation.
Heading into the Pune Test, India are gunning for yet another series win. However, South Africa are also hopeful of a comeback, considering how India fared last time at the venue. In the Test against Australia in 2017, Steve O'Keefe picked up 6/35 in each innings and Steve Smith smashed a century as Australia won by 333 runs, which was their last major batting collapse in home Tests. Keshav Maharaj and Muthusamy, two left-armers, will be hoping the Pune deck has the same assistance what O'Keefe had in the 2017 Test. However, will the Proteas find their batting equivalent of Smith in these conditions? That is the major question.
India are all set to play an unchanged XI while South Africa might replace Dane Piedt and opt for the pace of Lungi Ngidi. However, out of the current lot, only Kagiso Rabada has the ability to reverse swing the ball while Ngidi will be making a return to competitive cricket for South Africa after being sidelined with injuries.
India (XI): Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Chesteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (captain), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi, Dane Piedt, Senuran Muthusamy, Zubayr Hamza, Heinrich Klaasen, Anrich Nortje.
Weather and pitch conditions
The pitch in Pune is expected to be a turner with plenty of assistance for the spinners. However, the pitch will be under the scanner as it will be prepared by Pandurang Salgaonkar, who was suspended by the ICC for six months later that year after being caught in a sting operation related to pitch fixing. The controversy arose when television channel India Today caught Salgaonkar on tape in October 2017 over alleged pitch fixing ahead of a One Day International against New Zealand. Though the ICC gave him a clean chit on allegations (which were levelled by a national news channel) of trying to doctor the pitch for last year’s ODI against New Zealand, he was charged for not informing the Anti-Corruption Unit about the alleged approach.
The weather is normally fine in Pune around this time but with global warming, it has changed. Rain is expected to play a part in most days of the Test match. The precipation percentrage for Saturday and Sunday is expected to be 80 percent. There has been no rain heading into the clash and one hopes that it stays away.
There has been only one Test played at the MCA stadium and four ODIs. The venue has not been good for India, having lost the Test to Australia and two out of the four ODIs. Even in Twenty20 Internationals, they have won one and lost one. India do not enjoy playing in Pune but they will be hoping to break their losing streak at this venue.