Team India, the top-ranked side in the ICC Test rankings, will be desperate to avoid the embarrassment of a whitewash when the third and final Test of the series against South Africa begins at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 24 January. Virat Kohli and co are trailing 0-2 having suffered defeats in Cape Town and Centurion.
Though the series has already been lost, Virat Kohli and co can take confidence knowing that never before has an Indian team been defeated in a Test match at the Wanderers. It was at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg that the Indian team registered their first Test win in the Rainbow Nation; in 2006 under Rahul Dravid, and powered by an inspired spell by S Sreesanth, the Indian team defeated the hosts by 123 runs. On three other visits to the venue, the Test matches ended in a stalemate.
South Africa Not So Good at Wanderers
The Indian team can also take confidence from the fact that the hosts don’t have a great record at the venue. Since their readmission to international cricket, South Africa have lost more Test matches at the Wanderers Stadium than at any other venue. In all, the Proteas have a 11-9 win-loss record in the 26 Tests they’ve played at the venue since readmission. More recently – since 2005 – the hosts have lost more Tests than they’ve won at the venue.
However, if South Africa, who have currently won their last 9 home Tests, do go on to beat India at the Wanderers Stadium, they will have extended that winning streak to 10 Test matches – which will equal their longest winning streak in Test matches at home.
Spinners have had very little success in recent Test matches at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. In the last 3 Test matches played at the venue, spinners have picked up only 7 wickets – a wicket coming every 124 balls on average. These numbers are in stark contrast to the success of the pacers, who have claimed 89 wickets, taking a wicket every 50 balls on average.
Reports emerging from the ground indicated that the groundsman had left a generous amount of green grass on the pitch and that it was expected to remain that way. Groundsman Bethuel Buthelezi was also reported as saying that his intention was on preparing a ‘green mamba’ – which is to be interpreted as a green pitch offering venomous assistance to the quick bowlers.
Given the tale of the surface – as can be made out from historic scorecards, and from the curator’s ‘green mamba’ comment, one begs to ask the ICC if they rate the surface as fair – for it renders useless (and completely eliminates) one essential ingredient – that of spin bowling.
Therefore, given the daunting and lop-sided conditions they are likely to encounter, will India take the highly unconventional move of not fielding a specialist spinner in the XI? Will they field all four quicks in the XI – which they last did against Australia in Perth in 2012? On that occasion, the Indian captain MS Dhoni fielded a four-pronged pace attack comprising Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and R Vinay Kumar. On Wednesday, will Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and the rest of the team management go the horses-for-courses way and decide to play four proper quicks – picking the fourth quick at the cost of Ravichandran Ashwin?
How about India fielding this XI? Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.