INDIA LOOKING GOOD FOR 3-0
South Africa are rolling over and having a hard time of it currently in the Subcontinent and India are too good a side to show them any mercy. Virat Kohli’s team were ruthless as they waltzed to victory by an innings and 137 runs in the Second Test in Pune.
The teams now travel to Ranchi with the series already decided. India leads 2-0 and have already secured their 11th consecutive home series win.
Kohli has issued a rallying cry that his side is not going to ease off. South African captain Faf du Plessis looked downbeat at his post-match press conference and must summon up all his experience to encourage his team to go again.
This would have been previously classed as a dead rubber, but now there are World Test Championship points at stake.
James Buttler assesses the Third Test which gets underway on Saturday and finds the best bets…
WHAT HOPE FOR THE PROTEAS?
As Faf du Plessis was admitting to the media that his Proteas side had not been good enough in Pune, Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe was pleading with fans to be patient.
After losing the T20I series and both Tests so far a proud African nation back home is not impressed. This all follows a dismal display at the Cricket World Cup which saw Moroe move towards a football-style team manager as they moved into a transitional period as several big names moved on from international cricket.
AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn have been huge forces in world cricket and all would have walked into any other side in the world. Their performances over the last decade have been pivotal in any success South Africa have had. To replace them is a major problem for the South African hierarchy. It has left Du Plessis exposed as skipper and one of the few proven world-class players remaining.
To take on India at any stage is a challenge. To play them on their own surfaces during this transitional phase is too much to ask and it would be a major surprise if they did not end this Test series with a 3-0 series defeat. South Africa haven’t won a Test in India since February 2010 and that is unlikely to change any time soon.
KING KOHLI HAS ONLY STEVE SMITH AS A BATTING RIVAL
I may criticise Virat Kohli’s captaincy at times, but his prowess with the bat in all formats has never been in doubt. His unbeaten 254 in Pune was a masterclass, a career-best and moved him a point behind Australia’s Steve Smith at the top of the ICC Test batting rankings.
Kohli has promised that his side will be gunning for 3-0 in Ranchi and with the opportunity to regain his top-ranked status in the Third Test there is no doubt he will be 100% focussed. That is something South Africa should be wary of.
Kohli’s monster knock ended a run of five Tests without a three-figure score, which by his standards is disappointing. He hit 33 fours and two sixes, but his maximums did not come until the end of his mammoth stay as he concentrated in risk-free cricket and took the match away from the tourists.
When looking for the top India batsman in the Third Test, a rejuvenated Kohli is the obvious pick but he is the best price of 15/8 with Betway and whether that is valued is debatable.
Elsewhere, Mayank Agarwal has come of age this series. He notched his first Test ton in the First Test and followed that with 109 in the Second. Rohit Sharma failed after scoring a century in both knocks in the opener and Cheteshwar Pujara made a fifty but is yet to go big.
The sensible play is Kohli, but Pujara remains a play for value at 3/1, but Rohit at 9/2 is too big and therefore provides the greatest betting value.
IS FAF HIDING DOWN THE ORDER?
Faf du Plessis looks a beaten man at the moment. He led his side to an early exit at the World Cup and his beleaguered stature has grown in India. He is the experienced hand that the Proteas require to lead them to a new dawn with a fresh young side and he is a tough cookie. But how long he can continue to take a kicking and bounce back is up for debate because he is only human.
As the pedigree batsman in the side with the experience of Indian conditions, he is batting too low in the order. Coming in at number five, or six after a nightwatchman in Pune, he is set to be faced with a rebuilding job, rather than one where he can dictate the game.
That said, Du Plessis is a hugely proud man and rightly favourite to be top scorer for South Africa in the first innings in Ranchi. Yet this is a series where the ball with an African batsman’s name written on it could come at any time. It makes this market more of a lottery and one where it is better to play for value and that brings Quinton de Kock in to play at a much bigger price.
KESHAV MAHARAJ A MAJOR LOSS
A touring side in India needs a quality spinner if they are to have any chance of unsettling the Indian team. Keshav Maharaj is the closest the Proteas have in that role and the absence of their premier left-arm spinner in the Third Test is a cruel blow.
Maharaj looks set to be out for up to three weeks with a shoulder injury and will be replaced by Cobras left-arm spinner George Linde who has been called up as a replacement. Maharaj is South Africa’s leading wicket-taker so far with six and has been bowled into the ground. He sustained the injury when diving to field off his own bowling and leaves Linde with a chance of making his Test debut. He will fight it out for selection with left-arm spinner Senuran Muthusamy and off-spinner Dane Piedt, neither of who have made an impact in the series so far.
RAVI ASHWIN vs RAVI JADEJA
Ravi Ashwin has been the pick throughout the series to be the leading wicket-taker for India in the first innings and the series. He’s landed in both Tests so far and leads the series standings with 14 wickets. Ravi Jadeja has 10 scalps but has done the majority of his best work in the second innings.
Whilst it may be a temptation to take new boy Linde in the bowling markets, it makes no sense to back an unproven player and the Indian spinners are far more of a threat against a touring side much less competent at countering their threat. Jadeja is more likely to contribute runs with the bat whilst Ashwin remains the bowler to trust most with your stakes. India are blessed with two tremendous twirlers at their disposal. The only thing that can prevent Ashwin from landing the most series wickets would be India resting him as he has bowled a lot of overs across the two Tests so far.
India are unlikely to change a winning side. They may choose to rest a bowler and Mohammad Shami may be given a break. Umesh Yadav took three wickets in each innings of the second Test and will continue in the side. They may also hand Kuldeep Yadav a rare Test appearance and could give youngster Shubman Gill a go in the middle order. But the wise money would be on very few changes with 40 World Test Championship points up for grabs.
South Africa are a different kettle of fish as they such for any kind of successful formula. One enforced change sees injured Maharaj make way, but other changes are likely. Aiden Markram, Theunis de Bruyn, Temba Bavuma are out of form and under pressure and paceman Vernon Philander may be rested in favour of Lungi Ngidi. With the One Day International series around the corner, the Proteas will be keen to end the series on a high. The cold harsh reality is that whatever changes they make they are going to struggle to run India close.
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 two Tests and suggested that a cover switch to 3-0 ahead of the Second Test would be wise. The series will end 2-0 or 3-0 so we now have both results in our favour.