While the influence of the toss remains a point of contention in Tests in India, South Africa is also thinking of ways to improve their first innings batting performances. Faf du Plessis pointed it out as one that could potentially decide the outcome of the Ranchi Test. Now that’s no secret about the structure of Test cricket, particularly in the subcontinent. And on this tour, South Africa would be right to be rankled about wickets lost to pace over those lost to spin.
Particularly against the new ball, as was evident in Pune, South Africa gave India an advantage so big that the result was a case of eventuality from very early in the game.
One of the factors about the importance of striking with the new ball in India is that, if you manage to do that then there are fewer batsmen to take advantage of the SG ball when it becomes soft after around 40 overs. When the SG ball goes soft, the difference in characteristics is also stark, wherein it starts to come slower off the surface and renders spinners less effective.
Think about South Africa’s lower order partnerships during the series and the time at which they come to get an idea of how much easier the batting becomes. The Rahane-Kohli stand in Pune involved a period of play where the well-set duo blunted the second new ball, so that they could capitalize later. Kohli even revealed that he timed the declaration at Vizag late so that his bowlers are fresh and have a full morning with the SG ball when it’s hard.
Throughout these two Tests, South Africa has lost 28 wickets as compared to India’s 7 when the SG ball is hard (first 40 overs with either first or second new ball). South Africa’s batting average also gains a 15-point difference after the first 40 overs but it doesn’t add too much to the outcome since they’d already lost too many wickets upfront. Du Plessis has promised quite a few changes in personnel, and batting order for the third and final Test. What’d be interesting to see is if they find ways of improving their ability to strike hard when the SG is hard as well.
Probable XI of South Africa: Dean Elgar, Zubayr Hamza, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Senuran Muthusamy, Dane Piedt/George Linde, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje/Lungi Ngidi
Probable XI of India: Mayank Agarwal, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav/Hanuma Vihari