MUMBAI: Cheteshwar Pujara at No. 3, Virat Kohli at No. 4 and Ajinkya Rahane at No. 5 – the bulwark of India’s middle-order – have gone without a Test hundred now for 46, 28 and 26 innings respectively.
As India look forward to conquering what is possibly a final Test bastion of sorts – a series win in South Africa – a good deal of what they must have in their armoury is one of these three men breaking the ‘century’ jinx. In that lies the ticket to conquering Newlands.
The other bit? A cracker of a pace attack that India’s furnished time and again these last four years, needs a subtle change going into this Test. Perhaps, an Umesh Yadav or an Ishant Sharma, more latter than former as he gives you control and can choke the runs, to replace an unsettled Mohammed Siraj.
A big century and a bit of freshness in the attack, and India can bag a series they’ve been highly capable of winning ever since they landed here last month. The upper back spasms that Kohli suffered on the eve of the second Test at the Wanderers should have subsided by now.
Old guard vs new
Hanuma Vihari will have to make way on Kohli’s return, despite his fighting unbeaten 40 in the second innings of the second Test. As coach Rahul Dravid carefully explained in Johannesburg, “Vihari and Iyer must wait for their time”.
India have only three overseas Test assignments over the next two years – a one-off game in England, two in Bangladesh and two in the West Indies (which is still not on paper yet).
The remaining six Tests are at home – two against the visiting Sri Lankans in March and four against Australia coming winter.
Between now and the end of 2022, one of Dravid’s most important tasks will be to plan the phasing out of the old, and the ringing in of the new. In that, Pujara and Rahane playing the Cape Town Test could perhaps bring a closure to what has been an impressive stint.
The hamstring pull that Siraj suffered at the Bull Ring is all set to rule him out of the series decider. And the Indian management has options in the form of Umesh or Ishant.
While Ishant’s pace has dropped lately as was evident in the Headingley Test and Umesh bowled very well at The Oval, the tall pacer with over 100 Tests and 300 wickets under his belt could be preferred as he lends control to the proceedings. That control allows Kohli to attack with his strikers.