JOHANNESBURG: Indian captain Virat Kohli has every reason to be confident his team can seal an historic Test series win in South Africa when they face the hosts in the second Test at the Wanderers Stadium on Monday.
“It’s a ground we all loving playing on and we are looking forward to it,” said Kohli after India won the first Test at Centurion by 113 runs on Thursday.
The numbers bear out Kohli’s optimism.
India have yet to be beaten in a Test match at South Africa’s premier cricket stadium and have a record of two wins and three draws since their first tour of South Africa in 1992/93.
Despite the Wanderers being renowned as a ground favouring fast bowlers -– which should have put India at a disadvantage on some of their earlier tours, before the emergence of their potent current pace bowling attack –- India have performed consistently well in Johannesburg.
The ground holds particularly happy memories for some of the Indian touring party.
New coach Rahul Dravid made his first Test century in a drawn match in 1996/97 and ten years later captained India to their first Test win in South Africa.
Kohli gave a batting masterclass when he made 119 and 96 in a high-scoring draw in 2013/14 to enable India to set the hosts a seemingly impossible target of 458 runs to win.
In that match, though, South Africa came close to beating India for the only time in Johannesburg, making 450 for eight in a dramatic draw.
Kohli then led India to victory on a sub-standard pitch four seasons ago, a win he has highlighted as a “milestone” which gave the side the belief to follow up with a series win in Australia last January.
They also lead England 2-1 with the final Test — called off last year due to covid in the Indian camp — to be played later in 2022.
Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane all made crucial runs on a pitch which was halted at one stage because conditions were regarded as dangerous, while Mohammed Shami, one of the heroes of the win in Centurion, took five for 28 in the second innings.
A series win in South Africa remains a final frontier for India, who now have the opportunity to wrap up an historic triumph with a match to spare.
India were superior in all departments at Centurion, although South Africa’s fast bowlers came back strongly after a poor first day.
The home side’s batting was inadequate against a well-disciplined Indian bowling attack.
The middle order is vulnerable in the absence of the now-retired Quinton de Kock, while the opening batsmen, captain Dean Elgar and Aiden Markram, have failed to stay together beyond the second over of an innings in South Africa’s last three Tests.
The scale of the defeat in the first Test has presented the home camp with several headaches.
Elgar hinted at a change in the batting order and there are several permutations which are likely to be discussed.
Kyle Verreynne is expected to be De Kock’s successor as a wicketkeeper-batsman but South Africa will debate whether to add another specialist batsman in place of all-rounder Wiaan Mulder.
As is often the case at the Wanderers, South Africa could consider picking an all-pace attack, with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj having only played in two of a possible six Tests at the ground, in one of which — against Sri Lanka last season -– he was not called on to bowl.
India, meanwhile, have the luxury of considering whether to tamper with a winning team.
South Africa: Dean Elgar (capt), Aiden Markram, Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wkt), Ryan Rickelton, Wiaan Mulder, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi, Glenton Stuurman.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Risabh Pant (wkt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.
Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Allahuddien Paleker (both RSA).
TV umpire: Adrian Holdstock (RSA).
Match referee: Andy Pycroft (ZIM).