Johannesburg: A confident India have every reason to grab their maiden Test series win in South Africa when they face the shaky hosts in the second Test at the Wanderers from Monday. After winning the Boxing Day Test to sign off from a memorable 2021 on a high, India will be hoping to kick off 2022 on a similar note in the 'New Year' Test.
India have got all the right reasons to be confident of taking an unassailable lead in the three-match series after breaching Fortress Centurion. For starters, the 'Bullring' in Johannesburg has been a 'citadel' to the touring Indians in South Africa. In five Test matches, India have won twice and drawn thrice, having never lost to South Africa.
It was at this venue where India won the inaugural edition of the men's T20 World Cup, defeating Pakistan in a nail-biting final by five runs. Co-incidentally, the Wanderers is a place where the Indian team's overseas domination began.
On a dangerous pitch, India battled hard to defeat South Africa by 63 runs in 2018, giving the team confidence and belief to do well in overseas conditions, which began a run of memorable wins outside home.
Coming to the first Test in SuperSport Park, India did well in all departments though South Africa's pacers came back strongly after a lacklustre day one. The toss fell in their favour, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal stitched a 117-run opening stand.
While Agarwal made 60, Rahul marched on to make 123, proving enough to give India a 130-run lead and leaving South Africa to do catch-up throughout the match.
Apart from the knocks by Agarwal and Rahul in the first innings, none of the Indian batters played for long, though Ajinkya Rahane played some eye-catching shots and Rishabh Pant scored a quick-fire 34 in the second innings.
Virat Kohli can take some inspiration from his 119 and 96 in a high-scoring draw in 2013 and making 54 and 41 here in 2018.
Cheteshwar Pujara too can recollect the memories from the 153 he made in the second innings in 2013 while Rahane's 48 in 2018 will still be fresh in his mind. The senior trio are due for big runs (read century) and recalling their best of run-making times from the past while focusing on the present could help in getting over their respective lean patches.
South Africa has got the bowling attack to challenge India but their batters need to stand up against the tourists' bowling line-up. The hosts' batting order has been made more vulnerable after Quinton de Kock's surprising retirement from Test cricket.
Kyle Verreynne is expected to take De Kock's spot as a wicketkeeper-batter but South Africa will think hard on adding a specialist batter to replace all-rounder Wiaan Mulder.
The only point of debate would be if both India and South Africa will leave out their respective spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Keshav Maharaj, in order to field an all-pace attack.
Overall, India will put their best foot forward to clinch a series win in South Africa for the first time at a place where they have never lost a Test match.
South Africa, on the other hand, have to gather themselves from conceding the series a week before the final match in Cape Town becomes a dead rubber.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant (wicket-keeper), Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Mohammed Siraj, Shreyas Iyer, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Jayant Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Priyank Panchal.
South Africa: Dean Elgar (captain), Aiden Markram, Sarel Erwee, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne (wicket-keeper), Ryan Rickelton, Wiaan Mulder, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi and Glenton Stuurman.