Cape Town - Temba Bavuma for Keshav Maharaj ... in a move that
steers the Proteas back toward a deeper batting line-up in the third and final Test
against India at the Wanderers from Wednesday.
That, based on key meteorological pointers right now for the
five days in Johannesburg, seems an increasingly likely call by the national
team’s brains trust as they plot their first-ever series clean sweep of these
The whitewash possibility is a strong incentive for the
Proteas, already 2-0 to the good, not to succumb to the threat - and history
constantly reminds it is not insignificant - of tardy, lethargic “dead-rubber”
habits from them at the Bullring.
It would be difficult to raise eyebrows too pointedly if
South Africa opt for a “same again” structural approach to their XI, considering
that the formula of six batsmen and five bowlers - and little in the way of
in-between players - earned respective triumphs at Newlands and SuperSport
But coach Ottis Gibson and his back-up staff, you can
virtually be sure, will also very earnestly discuss more of a
horses-for-courses approach for the specific needs of the Wanderers.
Encouraging that further, as things stand, are the
weather-related signals for the Test, suggesting that only day one (Wednesday)
is going to be free of any precipitation in the Big Smoke.
Latest SA Weather Service forecasts predict a not
inconsiderable total of around 60 millimetres of rain from Thursday through to
Naturally not all of that would fall during “cricket hours”,
and it is also possible that much of it will come in the form of trademark,
heavy afternoon thundershowers that only interrupt play to a limited extent.
But good amounts of cloud cover, at very least, are also
tipped for generous tracts of the Test match and everyone knows what that generally
means at Wanderers: a certain spitefulness in favour of the quickies and some
seam movement into the bargain.
Long-time Proteas enthusiasts, when thinking of a damp,
murky Bullring, inevitably trigger simultaneous memories of “two for four” ...
that unenviable day for England back in November 1999 when they lost a critical
toss and Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock cashed in mercilessly with the new
The tourists never recovered from that carnage of those
first three (yes, three) overs, being bundled out for 122 and going on to lose
by an innings.
There was a certain freakishness to that particular day one
of a Jo’burg Test, both statistically and in terms of the gross weighting in
favour of pace bowling, and it may be foolhardy to start thinking of a carbon
copy at any point in the looming fixture.
But unless the forecast changes fairly profoundly over the
next couple of days, a specialist spinner being a largely redundant character
for this contest nevertheless appears a strong likelihood.
Impressive though he has been over the course of 16 Tests
for the Proteas so far, left-arm spinner Maharaj being sacrificed does not look
– at least from some four days out - the most heinous of crimes.
Indeed, if he does sit out it would amount to the third Wanderers
Test in succession in which the home side have overlooked a spinner; they did
so most recently in a rout of Sri Lanka last season and, before that, a defeat
to England on their last tour here.
Especially considering the stirring debut of Lungi Ngidi at
Centurion, the Proteas have every reason to suspect that a quartet of pacemen -
and probably the same ones who did duty there, unless there is a feeling that
rotation should come into play - will be sufficient to do the series “kill” job
Not picking Maharaj would also facilitate a logical return
to the mix of the suitably obdurate, technically tight Bavuma, stiffening the
batting department in the likely challenging conditions.
It is not as though the Proteas batsmen have fired on all cylinders
over the course of the first two Tests; there were times when, largely due to
collywobbles at the crease, India were granted promising, genuine gateways into
the respective contests.
Bavuma is also in tidy enough nick after being released to
play a Momentum One-Day Cup match for the Cape Cobras against the Knights a few
days ago, and contributing a brisk 65 off 74 balls at the top of the order.
Of course he is even more likely to secure a Wanderers berth
if in-form Aiden Markram fails to come through his fitness examination on
Tuesday, after a thigh strain, although he was tipped very recently to recover
*Assuming everyone in
the squad has a clean bill of health, this may well be the SA team on Wednesday
if the rain outlook stays strong:
Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla,
AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis (capt), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Vernon
Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel, Lungi Ngidi
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing