After succumbing to a 72-run defeat to South Africa in Newlands, India will be have their work cut out for them in the second Test at Centurion starting on Saturday.
Virat Kohli’s men were in sight of a famous overseas win after being set a target of 208 runs in the final innings but a Vernon Philander special knocked the stuffing out of the visitors to give South Africa the early advantage.
The stakes for India will be high at the SuperSport Park with the three-match Test series marking the beginning of a 2018 which sees them embark on some tough overseas tours.
As such, we look at the key talking points ahead of the crucial second Test.
WILL KL RAHUL AND AJINKYA RAHANE FEATURE?
Both were selections based on current form more than anything else but the gambit failed to pay off for the Indians.
Dhawan fell prey to the short-ball in both innings while Sharma failed to ease any doubts about his overseas credentials yet again.
With calls to reinstate the more technically sound Rahul and Rahane growing from all quarters, Kohli will have lots to ponder about ahead of Saturday.
The fact that Rahane and Rahul were seen going hard at the nets the day after the defeat at Newlands suggests the duo could be in contention at Centurion but Kohli has never shied away from making bold calls earlier and it would not be a surprise to see Dhawan and Sharma retained.
ASHWIN AND JADEJA FIGHT IT OUT FOR LONE SPINNER’S SLOT
Such were the conditions on offer at Newlands that India could well be tempted to go for an all-pace bowling lineup at Centurion. However, with two world-class spinners at their disposal, it is certain that Kohli will opt for at least one on Saturday.
Ravindra Jadeja’s illness meant there was no such headache for the Indian skipper in the first Test but there will be one now. Ravichandran Ashwin bowled only one over in the second innings at Newlands but he did pick up two wickets.
Jadeja though has a more formidable record in South Africa and his accuracy and control means he could be a much better option at holding one end up for the seamers.
INDIA’S PACE BATTERY
Kohli’s selections headaches are not only limited to the batting and spin departments with a similar conundrum facing the Indian skipper when it comes to the pace battery.
The visitors’ pacers held up their end of the bargain in the opening Test, especially in the second innings. The pace quartet of Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya showed just why they were as good as the Proteas bowling attack.
With Centurion being a bouncy track traditionally, Ishant Sharma could become an option for the Indians.
Bumrah’s second innings showing at Newlands means it will be difficult to leave him out of the attack while Shami and Bhuvneshwar were equally impressive.
SOUTH AFRICA FACE PACE DILEMMA OF THEIR OWN
With Dale Steyn’s injury breaking up the dream pace quartet of himself alongside Kagiso Rabada, Philander and Morne Morkel after just one Test, Faf du Plessis will have a choice to make when it comes to the fourth pacer.
Chris Morris is an option for the Proteas skipper along with Duanne Olivier. The 25-year-old was one of the positives from the Test series defeat to England last year while Morris is a familiar hand.
Du Plessis might also ponder about throwing in an extra batsman in place of Steynor or go for a much safer bet in all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo.
England have called up uncapped Lancashire batsman Liam Livingstone and returning paceman Mark Wood for the two-match Test series in New Zealand.
As expected there has been no mass bloodletting after the comprehensive Ashes defeat, with Gary Ballance, Jake Ball and Tom Curran the only absentees from the group beaten 4-0 in Australia.
Ballance did not feature in the series, Ball featured only in the first Test and Curran was a late addition to the squad before turning out in Melbourne and Sydney.
Trevor Bayliss made a strong case for the retention of Mark Stoneman and James Vince when reviewing the campaign earlier this week, but the pair underperformed Down Under and there is little doubt that this show of faith requires immediate payback if they are to linger in the side.
England play two warm-up matches in Hamilton before their gruelling winter schedule finally comes to a close with Tests in Auckland on March 22 and Christchurch on March 30.
Livingstone, 24, is the spare batsman on tour and will likely push harder for a place than Ballance, who resembled little more than a place holder during the Ashes.
The Cumbrian batsman edged out England Lions team-mates Dan Lawrence and Joe Clarke in a selection process delayed for 24 hours by captain Joe Root’s viral illness.
He is an aggressive and innovative presence at the crease and, though he failed to impress when he made his England bow in two Twenty20s against South Africa last summer, Livingstone has plenty of admirers in the national set-up, not least the influential Andy Flower.
National selector James Whitaker said: “Liam has been a player that we have been impressed with for quite some time, having performed well in the county system with Lancashire and over the past couple of years with the England Lions.
“He is a very talented and tough cricketer who has the ideal qualities and character to be successful in the Test arena. During the recent Lions tour of Australia, he was a standout performer and showed a lot of maturity in his attitude and put in some strong performances.”
Wood, meanwhile, would have been present for the Test leg in Australia had he been considered fit and robust enough for the challenge.
Persistent injuries have kept the Durham quick, who is capable of the kind of express pace Root’s side so conspicuously lacked in the past few months, to just 10 Test caps since debuting in May 2015.
He is currently with England’s limited-overs squad as they look to exact a measure of revenge for the Ashes.
“After a frustrating period with injuries, Mark is now back to full fitness and is looking forward to being part of our Test plans,” said Whitaker. “He will play a significant part in our forthcoming ODI tour of
Australia and we will be paying close attention to his efforts over the next few weeks.”
Craig Overton, who also made his Test debut during the Ashes, is currently recovering from a cracked rib but has been picked on the assumption he will be fully fit.
As has been the case with the last three squad announcements all-rounder Ben Stokes appears with a caveat next to his name, as he waits to find out if he will be charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.
The England and Wales cricket Board noted: “His involvement remains subject to any relevant legal or disciplinary developments in relation to the incident in Bristol in September.
“Should the ECB Board receive formal confirmation that Stokes has either been charged or that he will face no charges, they would convene within 48 hours to make a decision on his availability for the team at that stage.”
England squad: J Root (Yorkshire, captain), M Ali (Worcestershire), J Anderson (Lancashire), J Bairstow (Yorkshire), S Broad (Nottinghamshire), A Cook (Essex), M Crane (Hampshire), B Foakes (Surrey), L Livingstone (Lancashire), D Malan (Middlesex), C Overton (Somerset), B Stokes (Durham), M Stoneman (Surrey), J Vince (Hampshire), C Woakes (Warwickshire), M Wood (Durham).
India’s cricket board said Wednesday it would play two matches against Ireland ahead of the tour of England in July.
Ireland — who were awarded Test status alongside Afghanistan last year — will host India in Dublin on June 27 and June 29 for two Twenty20 games.
India last toured Ireland in 2007, playing a one-day international in Belfast which they won by nine wickets.
The two sides have met only once for a match in the shortest format, squaring off in Nottingham during the 2009 World T20.
India have tours of both England and Australia lined up for the 2018 season.
The world’s top Test side, led by skipper Virat Kohli, lost the first of three Tests to South Africa in Cape Town on Monday.
The games will be the first T20 internationals for Ireland head coach Graham Ford, and the South African is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against such high profile opposition.
“It’s fantastic news for the lads and fans alike,” said Ford, who only took the reins of the Irish side last month.
“The matches will of course be a huge challenge for the team, but what an opportunity for everyone to showcase their talents in front of a huge audience, both at the games and live on television,” added the 57-year-old former South Africa head coach.