The tourists trail 0-1 in the three-match series after their six-wicket loss in first Test at Centurion and will have it all to do if they are to keep their hopes of a first series win on South African soil alive.
With all to play for at the picturesque Newlands, we look at the talking points ahead of the Test.
ALL’S NOT WELL IN PAKISTAN CAMP AS PRESSURE RISES ON SARFRAZ
The Centurion loss has affected Pakistan in more ways than one with reports of head coach Mickey Arthur taking his senior batsmen to task following yet another batting collapse. The team management did come out to refute those reports but batting coach Grant Flower admitted that the atmosphere in the team camp was far from ideal.
One of the senior batsmen to reportedly come under Arthur’s crosshairs is skipper Sarfraz Ahmed whose Test captaincy has come under increasing pressure of late. A possible breakdown in his relationship with Arthur at this stage would not be the most ideal of preparations for the tourists going into the second Test.
His own personal form is under the scanner too after he bagged a pair in the Centurion defeat and yet another series loss following the defeat to New Zealand in the UAE could see the walls finally close in on the wicketkeeper-batsman’s captaincy in the red-ball format.
HOSTS GRAPPLE WITH PHILANDER DILEMMA
South Africa are in the driving seat after their convincing triumph in the first Test but the hosts have a fine balancing act to do in terms of team selection for the Newlands clash. Star seamer Vernon Philander has been declared fit to play after missing out at Centurion but his return has given skipper Faf du Plessis some serious selection headaches.
Du Plessis confirmed that Philander will slot straight back into the playing XI in what is the seamer’s home ground. The question now is which player Philander will replace.
The hosts deployed a three-man pace attack in Centurion in the form of Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Duanne Olivier. Olivier put in a man-of-the-match display with a 11-wicket haul and it would be unfair to drop the seamer after that performance.
Dropping Rabada or Steyn would be near unthinkable for the Proteas and Du Plessis has to now decide whether to sacrifice a specialist batsman or a bowler to make way for Philander’s return.
PAKISTAN GET ABBAS BOOST BUT BATTING REMAINS A WORRY
While Du Plessis will have to put on his thinking cap in the wake of Philander’s return, his Pakistan counterpart Sarfraz will have no such troubles as Mohammad Abbas returns from injury.
The Pakistan seamer did not feature in Centurion due to a shoulder injury but has now fully recovered in time for the Newlands Test. Abbas will be welcomed back with open arms after what has been a stellar 2018 for him in which he has picked up 38 wickets in just seven Tests at an average of under 14.
However, it is in the batting department that Pakistan’s troubles lie with senior batsmen such as Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq failing spectacularly at Centurion. While veteran Azhar is expected to retain his place, Shafiq’s spot could be in question with the likes of Haris Sohail and Mohammad Rizwan lying in wait. Shafiq registered scores of seven and six in the first Test but it was the loose manner of his dismissals more than his low contribution that will frustrate the Pakistan team management the most.
With the pressure well and truly on the tourists, it will be interesting to see if Shafiq features in the playing XI at Newlands.
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12 teams will take part in the main group stage of the 2020 edition with the top-eight ranked sides in the world on the cut-off date set by the ICC gaining an automatic entry.
By virtue off their No8 rank in the T20 standings currently, Afghanistan have pipped ninth and 10th ranked Sri Lanka and Bangladesh respectively.
2014 champions Sri Lanka and 2018 Asia Cup runners-up Bangladesh will now have to go through the opening round of the 2020 World Cup in order to secure their berth in the ‘Super 12’.
Both sides will now need to finish among the top two spots in their respective four-team groups in the opening round to seal their passage to the main group stage (Super 12).
Sri Lanka T20 skipper Lasith Malinga remains confident that the islanders will be able to progress to the Super 12s.
“It is a bit disappointing that we have not been able to ensure a direct Super 12s berth but I’m confident that we will do well in the tournament,”Malinga was quoted as saying by the ICC.
“Having played three finals and winning once, it is natural that everyone expected us to finish in the top-eight but we have to take the opportunity in the extra matches of the group stage and prepare well for the knock-out matches,” he added.
His Bangladesh counterpart Shakib Al Hasan echoed similar sentiments.
“We have not secured a direct Super 12s berth but I’m confident that we will do well in the tournament by going through the group stage,” Shakib stated.
“We are a side capable of beating the best on our day and I see no reason why we can’t go far in the tournament. There is still some time and we will use it to be at our best for the T20 World Cup.”
The Super 12 stage in the 2020 T20 World Cup will see the teams divided into two pools of six and will have a round-robin format.
Ashwin had been facing a race against time to be fit in time for the Sydney fixture but has now failed a late fitness test. The 32-year-old had picked up a side strain injury in the series opener at Adelaide and had subsequently missed the Tests at Perth and Melbourne.
This is the second overseas tour in a row that Ashwin has now not been able to finish due to injury issues. The spinner had missed a few Tests in England too after sustaining a similar injury.
India are on the cusp of a maiden Test series win on Australian soil after taking a 2-1 lead in the four-match series and Ashwin’s now almost certain unavailability for the Sydney clash will be a setback given its traditional assistance for spinners.
Skipper Virat Kohli has urged Ashwin to work harder on his fitness to prevent a repeat of the England and Australian tours.
“It’s unfortunate that he’s had two niggles that are quite similar in the last couple of away tours,” Kohli was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
“It’s something he will focus on to correct. The physio and trainer have spoken to him about what he has to do.
“He’s very important for sure. In Test cricket he’s a vital part of this team and we wanted him to be 100 percent fit for a longer period to that he can come back to us in the Test format. He is very disappointed that he’s not able to recover in time,” the India skipper continued.
Ravindra Jadeja will be expected to retain his spot in the playing XI with India also having the option of including wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav as a second spin option. Kohli, however, is keeping his cards closed and has talked up the part-time spin ability of Hanuma Vihari.
“The Ashwin factor, it does make you alter your plans a little bit. But Vihari was bowling beautiful whenever he got the ball,” the 29-year-old stated.
“(Hanuma) Vihari has looked like picking up a wicket every time he comes on to bowl. We are looking at him as a solid bowling option now, especially in this Test match,” he added.
Although Ashwin is not expected to play a part in Sydney any more, India have kept the option of picking him open by naming him in the 13-man squad for the Test.
India name 13-man squad for SCG Test: Virat Kohli (C), A Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, C Pujara, H Vihari, R Pant, R Jadeja, K Yadav, R Ashwin, M Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav— BCCI (@BCCI) January 2, 2019
A decision on R Ashwin's availability will be taken on the morning of the Test #AUSvIND pic.twitter.com/4Lji2FExU8
The final Test between the two sides at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) will get underway on Thursday.