South Africa put up a great fight in the First Test at the YSR Stadium in Visakhapatnam but, despite their best efforts, had always seemed destined to defeat. The final winning margin of 203 runs was India’s third successive victory of more than 200 runs in Test matches.
The Proteas performed somewhere close to their optimum level in Subcontinent conditions during the opening Test and still suffered a crushing defeat.
James Buttler assesses whether the tourists have any chances of bouncing back in the Second Test in Pune and suggests a major change in the India Test team…
ROHIT RETURNS IN STYLE
Rohit Sharma has long been derided by many Indian fans as a white ball player and, at best, a flat-track bully against the red ball. He has been criticised for not being able to travel and for scoring runs in familiar conditions in Test cricket.
But, if you are betting on this series, there are two factors to remember, whether like more you love watching Rohit bat, or not. Firstly, he is a fine player and needs time both home and away to cement his place and, secondly, remember where this series is being played.
Sharma’s detractors will cite the huge contrast between Rohit’s home and away record in Tests. And the difference is startling. On his travels, in 17 matches, he has scored 816 runs at an average of 26.32. In India, in 10 matches, he has amassed 1072 runs at an average of 97.45. These are home soil figures boosted by centuries in each innings in Visakhapatnam and are certainly statistics to bear in mind when investing in the batting markets from hereon.
I wanted to wait to see which Rohit Sharma reappeared in a Test shirt. What we have seen is a man hungry to show what he can do, and that Rohit is well worth backing.
VIRAT KOHLI UNDER PRESSURE?
Compare Rohit to captain Virat Kohli and there is no contest in who should be backed to score most runs. Both are terrific players but Kohli is now without a Test century in 10 innings and has never completely convinced as an on-field skipper.
Kohli has raised the bar in terms of fitness, team attitude and shaping selection. But those are primarily coaching roles and on the pitch he is often behind the game in pressurised situations.
Kohli is not an instinctive tactician. Of course, he is not under pressure for his place or as skipper, but it is not a tough job to lead a star-studded Indian side in home conditions that greatly favour them. This India are well on their way to collecting their 11th successive home Test series win and Kohli supporters will also point to recent away successes in Australia and West Indies. But West Indies are weak and that was an Australia side still reeling from Sandpapergate and before the returns of Steve Smith and David Warner.
India lost away in South Africa (2-1) and England (4-1) last year and it is in these environments where his players are not as comfortable that Kohli has yet to deliver. Kohli also failed to impress at the recent World Cup in England and if Rohit could conquer scoring consistent runs abroad he’d be the perfect Test skipper.
The greatest teams in history have made changes to improve even when they are dominant. It’s just a job swap and would allow Virat to concentrate on scoring a ridiculous number of runs in all formats.
CENTURIES FROM BOTH SIDES
It says a lot about this First Test that Dean Elgar’s brilliant first innings 160, Quinton de Kock’s 111 and South Africa’s respectable total of 431 are now mere sideshows. That is because India had already declared on 502 for seven, Rohit had made 176 and his opening partner Mayank Agarwal had turned his maiden test ton into a final double century.
Rohit made a second-innings 127 as Cheteshwar Pujara contributed 81 and then, faced with a day five pitch, South Africa capitulated. The toss was important, but this India side are seriously likely to take the series 3-0, regardless of the coin flips to come.
A QUICK STOCK TAKE
In the series preview, we put up De Kock at 6/1 to be top Proteas’ batsman in the series and Pujara, at 11/4, for India. Both are still very much in the hunt as Pujara is very capable of going big in at least one of the two Tests to come.
In the bowling markets, we took Ravi Ashwin for India and he gave is a great start this series with 7-145 in the first innings. Keshav Maharaj’s five wickets for South Africa saw him comfortably the most successful bowler in each innings. The spin pair are worth sticking with in the games to come as spin rules the roost. Mohammad Shami’s second innings 5-fer should not be taken as anything more than a good day for the Indian paceman.
NO WAY BACK FOR PROTEAS
If South Africa were going to shock India they had to do that in the First Test. Their skipper Faf du Plessis needed to have won the toss and at least then a 400-plus total may have made India think.
The weather did not interfere as much as was thought possible and that could have assisted the Africans to a draw. But India out batted the tourists and it’s tough to see that changing as the series heads to Pune and then Ranchi. With India ahead and momentum on their side the next two Tests could be even more one-sided.
South Africa have now lost six of their last seven Tests in the Subcontinent and rightly India are as short as 4/11 to win the Second Test. If that is your kind of price, take it. The weather forecast is good for minimal interruptions in Pune, but there is one stat on South Africa’s side. In the only Test played at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium before, Australia won by an enormous 333 runs back in February 2017.
Times have changed. Spin took 38 of the 40 wickets back then and India have the better spinners for the upcoming game. Steven O’Keefe took 12-70 in that game and was assisted by wickets from Nathan Lyon. It’s tough to see South Africa doing similar damage. And a one-match result from over two years ago is not any basis to back the tourists in this one.
BACK THE BATTERS AGAIN
In that solitary Test the scores were low, but the sample size is not worth taking into account and the Pune ground usually yields plenty of runs and assists the spinners, so that should frame any Second Test bets.
For India, the top scorer in the first innings should come from the top four in the order. It’s a price play for value as strong cases can be made for all four.
Double centurion Agarwal is the outsider with the bookies and one swallow does not make a summer. Pujara is a determined Test player and Kohli’s record speaks for itself, but how can you back against a man coming off back-to-back hundreds, particularly when he is second favourite at 3/1? Answer – you can’t. Rohit is the play.
For South Africa, Dean Elgar was superb in the First Test. He saw off the seamers and win the battle with Ravi Ashwin when everyone else struggled. Consequently, but I’m seeking value elsewhere with the other First Test hundred-maker Quinton de Kock. The wicket-keeper has plenty of Indian Premier League experience and his 111 showed the amount of quality he provides coming in lower down the order. At 11/2 the left-hander is too big to ignore.
RAVI ASHWIN TO STRIKE AGAIN
The spinners will once again provide the biggest threat in Pune and Ravi Ashwin arrives after taking match figures of 8-189 in Visakhapatnam and will be the bowler the South Africans least want to come up against throughout the series. From a punter’s viewpoint it is marvellous that Ashwin remains joint favourite with his spin partner Ravi Jadeja took six wickets in the First Test.
With both available at 2/1 it is Ashwin all the way. The 33-year-old is the bowling equivalent of Rohit in that his record in Tests on home soil is far superior to away series. He has taken 242 (69.14%) of his 350 Test wickets during home series.
Keshav Maharaj remains the man to back for South Africa. He took five wickets in the First Test and at 5/2 to be the leading wicket-taker for the third innings in a row is the standout bet of the Test.
THE SERIES PREDICTION
I took India to win the series 2-0 hoping that South Africa wouldn’t roll over quite as easily in the First Test and that the weather would have played a bigger part.
Whilst 2-0 is still a live play, the 3-0 is now more likely in my view and at 7/10 could be played as cover if required.