ROHIT SANKAR | 9 OCTOBER, 2019
India, South Africa Face Selection Quandary Ahead of Second Test
India and South Africa regroup at Pune
After the Visakhapatnam Test, India and South Africa regroup at Pune for the second Test of the Freedom series that is currently 1-0 in favour of the hosts. After the drubbing at Vizag, South Africa have a series of queries to answer while India will ponder whether to disturb a winning combination at Pune, the venue where they last lost a Test match - against the Australians in 2017. Ahead of the second Test, we take a glance at few selection questions for both teams.
Kuldeep Yadav for Ajinkya Rahane?
Pune in 2017 saw spinners take 31 of the 40 wickets to fall as Australia comprehensively beat India courtesy a stunning performance from Steven O'Keefe. That remains the only Test to have been played at the venue and will surely be a sign of what to expect from the surface. Given that, will India be looking to blood an x-factor spinner in Kuldeep Yadav? At Vizag, during the Dean Elgar - Quinton de Kock and Dane Piedt - Senuran Muthusamy stands, India seemed to lack a bowler who can come in and prize out wickets with his variations. In Kuldeep they have an able spinner whose last haul in Tests is a fifer in Sydney against Australia.
If Kuldeep does come in, Ajinkya Rahane might have to make way for the Chinaman spinner. The middle-order batsman has a rather ordinary home record and given that India's spinners both qualify as high quality all-rounders - both are in the top five of ICC all-rounder rankings - there is no shortage of batting depth. Leaving Rahane out would allow India to field Kuldeep and add more firepower to an already potent bowling attack.
Vernon Philander or Lungi Ngidi?
Despite dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara in both innings, Vernon Philander's place in the Test side in these conditions is under scrutiny. The veteran seamer was tidy at Vizag but in 34 overs acorss innings picked up just the two wickets. With his effectiveness unquestionably tapering downward after the new ball wears out, South Africa might ponder sitting him out for someone like Lungi Ngidi.
Philander has a bowling average of 33.93 in Asia, a far cry from his overall average of 21.85. Given his pace, or the lack of it rather, Philander is just not effective enough with the old ball and fails to generate any reverse swing on offer. If the Proteas do need to replace him, Ngidi and Anrich Nortje are available at their disposal and they may not hesitate to bring in more pace into their attack for Pune where the hot, humid conditions could encourage reverse swing.
Senuran Muthusamy and Dane Piedt or a choice between the two?
Dane Piedt was the obvious second choice spinner behind Keshav Maharaj before the beginning of the series. At Vizag, the Proteas spun a surprise by blooding debutant all-rounder Senuran Muthusamy as a third spinner in the side. It seemed to be a left-field move although the logic behind shortening their batting to accomodate Muthusamy seemed questionable.
However, at the end of the first Test the tables have changed. Piedt's inconsistent returns and high economy rate - a clear indication he lacked any kind of control on the Indian batsmen - along with Muthusamy's impressive debut has seen the Dolphins all-rounder jump the pecking order.
With South Africa expected to add more firepower to their batting, there might be room for only one of Muthusamy and Piedt. Given the grit and fight shown by Muthusamy - and a promise backed by adding the wicket of Virat Kohli as his maiden Test scalp - he should start alongside Maharaj with Piedt sitting out for an extra batsman in Zubayr Hamza or Heinrich Klaasen.
Umesh Yadav an outside bet?
Since 2017, Umesh Yadav has taken 40 wickets in Tests at home, nearly double that of any other Indian fast bowler. The skiddy seamer, who is effective with the new and old ball, ended his last home Test match by picking up a Man of the Match award for a career-best haul of 10 for 133 against West Indies.
Even in the Test in Pune in 2017 against Australia, Umesh Yadav picked up a four-wicket haul in the first innings. Much like Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav has a bowling style that is highly suited to Indian conditions. He can swing and seam the new ball and also generate reverse swing once the ball scuffs up.
While Ishant Sharma is often dubbed the leader of this Indian pace attack, he might be surplus to requirements on surfaces that are dust bowls. With the kind of spin resources India have, a bowler like Umesh might be useful in pegging the visitors back early with wickets to open up the middle-order to the spinners.