India must stop top-order failing and other talking points ahead of second South Africa Test

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India's batsmen struggled in the first Test.

South Africa hold a 1-0 lead over India in the three-Test series ahead of the second match in Centurion, starting on Saturday.

The hosts won a thriller, by 72 runs, in Cape Town which brought to the fore plenty of talking points.

Here, we look at three of them:

INDIA CAN’T AFFORD TOP-ORDER TO FALTER AGAIN

The failure of India’s batsmen in the first Test proved their big undoing with no player in the top-order, including skipper Virat Kohli, scoring more than 28 in either innings. With conditions in Centurion likely, once again, to aid pace bowling and favour the hosts, the tourists will have to be more secure outside off-stump and bat with greater patience.

India need the batters to step-up rather than rely on the likes of Hardik Pandya and Ravichandran Ashwin plundering runs. Calls to bring back KL Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane at the top, in place of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, have dominated punditry talk but shot selection and concentration rather than personnel is the main concern.

Indian batsman Virat Kohli lets a ball go during the first day of the first Test cricket match between South Africa and India at Newlands in Cape Town on January 5, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Indian captain Kohli struggled against the moving ball.

HOW DO SOUTH AFRICA MANAGE WITH DALE STEYN’S ABSENCE?

Whilst we have just seen Australia’s pace attack prove just too good for England in the Ashes, South Africa’s bowlers come into that same quality bracket. With Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander all in fine fettle, Steyn’s injury absence throughout the rest of the series will be felt, but not so much as it would have been five or six years ago. Still, it is a blow that the iconic quick is on the treatment table again.

The out-and-out pace of Duanne Olivier will likely be South Africa’s go-to option given the 25-year-old has Test cricket experience under his belt after taking 17 wickets at an average of 23.11 in his only five Tests to date, all played in 2017.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: South Africa bowler Duanne Olivier in action during day one of the 4th Investec Test match between England and South Africa at Old Trafford on August 4, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Olivier should slot into the South Africa attack.

CAN INDIA GET AB DE VILLIERS OUT EARLY?

Having only made his return to Test cricket last month following an 18-month hiatus from the game and doubts as to whether we would ever see him in whites again, South Africa’s mercurial batsman showed just why, in the first Test, that the game’s longest format is a better place when he’s at the crease. De Villiers scored an 84-ball 65 in the first innings when India were bowling well with the help of seam and swing, and he also chipped in during the second.

Simply put, his runs were vital and swung the momentum the Proteas’ way in the end. India need to bowl tighters line and pitch it up more against AB, especially when the 33-year-old is looking to attack.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 08: AB de Villiers of South Africa in action during day 4 of the 1st Sunfoil Test match between South Africa and India at PPC Newlands on January 08, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

In Test whites again: AB de Villiers.

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Virat Kohli calls for Indian batsman to 'show intent' ahead of second South Africa Test

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Virat Kohli made just 30 in two innings in the first Test.

Indian captain Virat Kohli wants his batsmen to “show intent” when they come up against South Africa’s fast bowlers again in the second Test starting at Centurion on Saturday.

“You can’t just stand there and take whatever is coming your way and not have intent,” Kohli said after his team were beaten by 72 runs in the first Test in Cape Town.

“You might get out but it’s important to keep coming at the bowler and making them feel, ‘if you make an error I am going to score.”

With conditions at Centurion again likely to favour fast bowling, the problem for India is not just how they should execute Kohli’s strategy – but who should do it.

No Indian top-order batsman made more than 28 in either innings in Cape Town. The only two scores above 30 were 93 by Hardik Pandya in the first innings and 37 by Ravichandran Ashwin in the second.

Pandya and Ashwin were batting at number seven and eight respectively, which suggests India have enough depth in their batting order – if their top-order players can get themselves through the new ball.

At least two batting positions will be debated as the tourists seek a way to play themselves back into the three-Test series.

Left-handed opener Shikhar Dhawan fell to short-pitched deliveries in both innings and there is an argument for Lokesh Rahul to take his place, while Ajinkya Rahane must be a contender to replace Rohit Sharma at number five.

Kohli said the selection for Cape Town was based on form. Rahane had a dismal recent series against Sri Lanka but has shown the ability to score runs away from home.

On India’s 2013/14 tour of South Africa Rahane scored 47, 15, 51 not out and 96 in the two Test matches and looked one of the best-equipped Indian batsmen against pace.

South Africa, meanwhile, look set to once again pick a four-pronged pace attack, although they have to replace the injured Dale Steyn.

There are three candidates — two out-and-out pace specialists in Duanne Olivier and Lungi Ngidi or Chris Morris who has batting skills as well as the ability to bowl at more than 140 kmh.

Both teams showed batting fragility in Cape Town, with India’s pace bowlers showing they too could take advantage of helpful conditions.

AB de Villiers’ aggression in innings of 65 and 35 was a key factor for South Africa. It is that sort of intent that both teams will be seeking in what promises to be another action-paced Test.

Likely teams:

South Africa: Faf du Plessis (capt), Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris or Duanne Olivier or Lungi Ngidi, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel.

India: Virat Kohli (capt), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan or Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah.

Umpires: Michael Gough (ENG), Paul Reiffel (AUS)
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough (both ENG)
Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)

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Mark Wood return and how can England dismiss Steve Smith among ODI talking points

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Quick back in action: Mark Wood.

WOOD TO MAKE HIS MARK

Durham paceman Mark Wood is an alluring figure for English cricket fans starved of pace during recent years. He is an effervescent presence in the middle, generating venomous deliveries off a short, staccato run and asking questions many of his compatriots simply cannot. But his international CV is a frustratingly slender one, hampered by a catalogue of injuries. Now fully fit, hopes are high he can leave his mark on the Aussies in their own back yard.

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