Now that fingernails and, in some cases, even fingers, have had some time to recover, it will help to look ahead rather than lose time discussing which of the two teams took its foot off the pedal and ease its quest for a dream victory in the first Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
It is a tribute to this squad’s self-belief that took it on the road to putting the home team under pressure. Sticking to the combination that played the thrilling draw will be tempting choice that Mahendra Singh Dhoni faces. He must now take those decisive steps to give the team the chance of winning the second Test – and, with it, the series.
India’s challenge will be build on the batting gains and find a bowling combination that can take 20 wickets to win the Test in Durban. Though Shikhar Dhawan can do better by putting a greater price on his wicket, there is no need to change his opening partnership with M Vijay who played a key role in tackling the new ball.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have given more evidence of their desire to be the bulwarks of Indian batting for some time to come. Rohit Sharma, easily one of the most talented batsmen in India, did not deliver the goods in Johannesburg but returns to a venue that he will have happy memories of from the ICC World Twenty20 2007.
If it does not want to play Ravindra Jadeja or Bhuvneshwar Kumar ahead of the sixth specialist batsman, Ajinkya Rahane, it must consider fielding either of these in place of paceman Ishant Sharma. I can already hear some dissenting voices. They are inevitable since Ishant Sharma picked up four wickets in South Africa’s first innings at the Wanderers and applied the brakes on the home team’s chase by getting AB de Villiers to chop a ball to his stumps with just 56 runs needed in 77 deliveries.
There can be no doubt that Ishant bowled a beautiful length on the second day of the first Test to help India gain a crucial 36-run lead. However, he seemed to embrace the familiar back of the length stuff in the second innings. That was detrimental to the team’s objective of making the 458-run target steep for South Africa.
Left-arm swing bowler Zaheer Khan and rookie paceman Mohammed Shami frequently asked probing questions of the batsmen and looked like taking wickets while the gangling Ishant Sharma lowered the bar to levels that
The other option that the team’s think-tank must consider is to swap off-spinner R Ashwin with the left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha. Given that there are not too many left-handers in the South African top-order, Ojha can be as effective in containment as Ashwin was and perhaps have a greater chance to snaring the right-handers.
South Africa will go into the second Test eager to build on its fourth innings fightback in Johannesburg. It will take the field at Kingsmead with a full complement of bowlers and have enough firepower to challenge the Indian batsmen unlike in their second innings at the Wanderers as Morne Morkel was rendered hors-de-combat and leg-spinner Imran Tahir proved to be cannon fodder.
Hashim Amla is too good a batsman for the team to be worried by his two freak dismissals in the first Test but the same cannot be said of JP Duminy. All said and done, there is some good, intense and combative cricket to look forward to when the world’s top two teams square up from Boxing Day at Kingsmead.