Seeking to avoid their first-ever whitewash on South African shores, India captain Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat first on a difficult track in the third and final Test at the Wanderers in Johanessburg.
Faf du Plessis also named an all-pace bowling attack on a greenish pitch with Andile Phehlukwayo coming in for Keshav Maharaj.
India were bowled out for 187 in their first innings as South Africa ended day one at 6-1.
INDIA’S OPENING HORROR SHOW CONTINUES
With opening stands of 16, 30, 28 and 11 so far in the first two Tests, it’s safe to say that it’s not been happy days for India’s openers so far.
While Shikhar Dhawan partnered Murali Vijay in the opening Test, KL Rahul was preferred in the second. The latter kept his place in the side at the Wanderers but his performance on Wednesday did little to justify that decision.
After being tested by South Africa’s pacers for 13 deliveries, Rahul departed for a duck after inside edging a Vernon Philander in-swinger which Quinton de Kock did well to collect. Vijay followed him to the dressing room a few moments later as his attempt to drive Kagiso Rabada through the covers could only muster a faint edge on the way to the wicket-keeper as India were reduced to 13-2.
After 10 innings between the three batsmen in the series so far, India’s openers average an abysmal 12.30, a testament to their struggles in South Africa.
KOHLI MAKES THE MOST OF TWO LIVES
After losing both openers so early, the pressure was on India’s batsmen as the Proteas’ pacers had their tails up.
On a difficult pitch, the Indian skipper was given two lifelines by the South Africans. He was let-off first by Philander off the bowling of Rabada before AB De Villiers dropped a sitter at third slip.
Edges evaded fielders and multiple plays and misses followed but Kohli hung on for dear life and made the South Africans pay with a half-century to remember.
His luck eventually ran out though while batting on 54 as De Villiers made up for his earlier drop by snatching an outside edge off Lungi Ngidi’s bowling.
CHETESHWAR PUJARA STANDS FIRM
While India’s openers have struggled on the tour, it has been no different with Cheteshwar Pujara who had gone 12 innings without scoring a fifty outside Asia when coming into the final Test.
After India lost the openers cheaply, Pujara dug deep. He was constantly beaten by the movement generated by Philander, Rabada and Morne Morkel but his resolve would not be broken easily.
It took the number three batsman 54 deliveries to open his account, underlining his patience at the crease and dogged determination. He saw off the new ball and was beginning to get into the flow of runs with the older ball as he brought up one of his finest half-centuries.
An outside edge off Phehlukwayo ended his 179-ball vigil at the crease but it was a fighting innings from Pujara which exemplified his penchant for doing the dirty work for the team.
INDIA CRUMBLE AFTER PUJARA’S DISMISSAL
After Pujara’s marathon knock was ended by Phehlukwayo, India’s lower middle-order crumbled under constant pressure by the pacers.
Rahane was dismissed by Philander but a retrospective no-ball call afforded him another chance. The Mumbai-batsman was unable to make the most of the reprieve as Philander got his man after trapping him on the pads.
Parthiv Patel would follow him soon after as he attempted to cut a Morkel delivery over point only to edge it to de Kock. Hardik Pandya, in a bid to counter-attack, top-edged a Phehlukwayo delivery as de Kock completed an excellent running catch.
All of a sudden, Indian went from 144-4 to 144-7.
BHUVNESHWAR STRIKES EARLY AFTER HANDY CAMEO
Bhuvneshwar’s credentials with the bat were confirmed in the first Test where the 127 deliveries he faced were the most by any Indian batsman. He showed some good application once again at the Wanderers with a robust innings. His handy cameo of 29 runs on Wednesday helped India reached 187 in their first innings after a sub-150 score looked on the cards.
His immaculate seam-bowling then got India off to the best start possible with the ball when he had Aiden Markram knick one on the way to Patel. He bowled quite a few unplayable deliveries in his three overs on the day and will be looking to provide some more early breakthroughs when South Africa come out to bat at 6-1 on Thursday morning.
He said his call after defeat in the second Test at Centurion to “be hard on ourselves” had been followed through.
“Everyone has been spoken to individually as to what went wrong, what happened and why it happened,” Kohli said.
“The guys have taken it well. Any time that you step onto the field, it is an opportunity to correct your mistakes and that is how you progress at the international level.”
He said batting coach Sanjay Bangar had worked with all the batsmen with a view to salvaging something from a series in which India are facing the possibility of a 3-0 defeat.
“I am sure everyone is looking forward to rectifying those mistakes and, if they are in the same positions (again), to consolidate those positions,” said Kohli.
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 23, 2018
The Indian captain added: “We have looked at the positives from the first two games as well. It is not many times on overseas tours that we have taken 40 wickets in two Tests.
“If the bowlers can continue doing their job, whichever team bats better can win the Test match. It’s a chance for everyone to step up and turn things around.”
Both captains said there was a possibility they could go into the match with all-seam attacks on a green, well-grassed pitch.
Remarkably, at a Wanderers ground which usually favours fast bowlers, South Africa have yet to beat India in four Test matches.
South African captain Faf du Plessis admitted that was “an amazing stat”.
He acknowledged that teams get a boost from playing where they or their predecessors have enjoyed success.
“You get some grounds where you get a bit of confidence with the way that you play and you run with it,” he said.
“I can think of a place like Perth in Australia, where we have never lost, and we get to the ground and we feel, ‘we are confident here, we can perform here’.”
But he said the South Africans were determined to complete a 3-0 series sweep.
“What you can do is keep them under pressure. They are obviously under pressure now, being 2-0 down in the series.
“A good start with the bat or with the ball is when you can put a team down. If you can be really solid, you would think their fighting spirit will slowly go away.”
Du Plessis said a key factor, as in the first two Tests, would be batting partnerships.
“I think the difference between us and India is that more batters have contributed to partnerships than them. For me, it’s making sure we keep the pressure on their batsmen.
“It’s been a pretty quiet series for most of them. If we keep doing that we will change that (Wanderers) stat.”
Du Plessis admitted that the Indian Premier League auction this weekend could be a distraction.
“The IPL plays a big part in all of our lives. For the management and myself it’s important to keep the focus and the energy driving towards the Test match.
“At the end of the day’s play, if you want to talk about the auction for a bit, you can do it. But the next day when it’s Test match time again we must be switched on and focused.”
Provided by AFP Sport
Having already captured the series with wins at Cape Town and Centurion so far, Faf du Plessis‘ will be aiming for a whitewash while Virat Kohli’s men will be looking to end on a high and salvage some pride.
We look at the key talking points ahead of the final clash between the No1 and No2 ranked Test sides in the world.
RAHANE IN LINE TO MAKE PLAYING XI?
Ajinkya Rahane’s exclusion from the playing XI in both Tests so far has raised a lot of eyebrows. The Mumbai-man, who has been one of India’s best performing batsmen overseas for some time now, endured a miserable run with the bat against Sri Lanka at home prior to the South Africa tour.
That poor form has prompted Kohli to go with Rohit Sharma in the middle-order though the move has failed to pay any dividends so far on the tour. On Sunday, Rahane was involved in an extensive batting session in the nets along with a few others which hints towards his inclusion in Johannesburg.
Whether it is Sharma or one of the bowlers who makes way remains to be seen but for now, all signs point toward Rahane playing.
INDIA AIM TO AVOID FIRST-EVER WHITEWASH ON SOUTH AFRICAN SHORES
Even though India have never managed to win a Test series in South Africa, they have never been on the receiving end of a complete whitewash.
This is their seventh tour of the African nation and they have been beaten in all save the one in 2013 where they drew. The closest they have come to a complete surrender was in 1996-97 when they lost the three-match series 2-0.
INDIA’S BATTING UNDER PRESSURE TO DELIVER
It has been a disappointing tour for India’s batsmen so far. The Proteas bowling attack has been on top of them all throughout the series as their deficiencies in technique against the moving ball lies thoroughly exposed.
Bar two standout innings – Virat Kohli’s 153 in the second Test and Hardik Pandya’s 93 in the first – India’s batsmen been undone more often that not on the juicy and green pitches on offer.
With a tour of England to come in the summer, it’s important for the Indians to prove that they have the capacity to handle the swinging and seaming ball. They definitely won’t have it easy on the green pitch at the Wanderers.
PARTHIV, KARTHIK OR SAHA?
India have called up Dinesh Karthik too as cover. For Kohli, the choice of glovesman for the Wanderers will present a huge dilemma. Does he opt for the safe hands of Saha if fit or persist with Parthiv? While Karthik’s batting is a big plus, he has not had much action behind the stumps in the domestic circuit having kept in only two first-class matches in the past year.