An upbeat India will clash with a depleted South Africa in the second Test of the ongoing series for the Gandhi-Mandela Trophy at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore starting on Saturday.
The Proteas have taken a severe blow even before the contest starts as pace spearheads Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander have been ruled out due to injuries. Steyn is yet to recover from a groin strain which he suffered during the opening Test while Philander injured his ankle in a freak accident during a football game in practice.
The duo did well in the first Test in Mohali and their absence will be greeted with relief by the Indian batsmen. In their absence, the experienced Morne Morkel and promising youngster Kasigo Rabada will probably share the new ball duties.
Rabada has been impressive throughout the tour so far and has troubled the batsmen with his speed and movement.
Although the pitch is expected to be spin-friendly, Morkel and Rabada have enough pace and guile to ask tough questions of the batsmen on any surface.
With Steyn and Philander missing out, Kyle Abbott is in line for a call-up and the right-armer will have to step up his game and provide much-needed support in his role as the third seamer.
The city has witnessed a lot of rain over the last few days and dense cloud cover coupled with moisture in the air means that the ball may swing a bit more in the air. The South African pacers may prove to be dangerous in such conditions.
Simon Harmer and the in-form Imran Tahir will be the spearheads in the spin department. J.P. Duminy, who is likely to return to the Test XI after recovering from a cut to the webbing of his hand, is more than useful as a spin option apart from his utility as a top order batsman.
South Africa have a list of worries in the batting departnment as well. Their batsmen proved woefully inadequate on the turning track in Mohali during the first Test. They were bundled out for a mere 108 runs in the second innings as the Indians wrapped up a 109-run victory inside three days.
With the track at the Chinnaswamy Stadium also expected to be helpful for spinners, the visitors may expect another tough battle.
The form of their captain Hashim Amla is also a cause for concern. One of the most technically gifted batsmen in the Proteas squad, Amla managed a total of just 43 runs during the two innings in the opening Test.
The rest of the Proteas line-up packs enough punch in the form of Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, Duminy and Dean Elgar. De Villers — who will appaear in his 100th Test — is familiar with the track thanks to his stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League.
The Indian camp has fewer problems to worry about. Talented off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and leg-spinner Amit Mishra were promising in the opening Test and will be expected to come up with the goods here as well.
With India skipper Virat Kohli’s penchant for a five-pronged bowling attack, rookie all-rounder Gurkeerat Singh Mann may be expected to make his Test debut. The Punjab lad has done well with his off-spin in domestic cricket and is a good option if the Indian think tank led by Kohli and team director Ravi Shastri decides to go for an extra spinner.
A middle-order batsman in the Punjab team, Mann is in good form at present, having scored an unbeaten double century in a Ranji Trophy game last month. He has also played as an opener in domestic tournaments.
The pace department has also got a boost since the experienced Ishant Sharma is eligible for selection after serving a one-Test ban. If the Indian team mangement does decide to include him in the playing XI, either Umesh Yadav or Varun Aaron will have to sit out.
One of the few issues of concern for the hosts is the poor form of opener Shikhar Dhawan. But the rest of the batting line-up wears a solid look.
Opener Murali Vijay has done well while the talented Chesteshwar Pujara has been consisted at the No.3 slot. Skipper Virat Kohli Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja are expected to form the middle order.
The lower order may also chip in with a useful contribution since both Ashwin and Mishra are also handy with the bat.