India look to bounce back

Despite all its modernity, the SuperSport Park has a certain old-world charm about it. Flanked by the highway on one side and metro line on the other, the multipurpose stadium is easily one of the most picturesque cricket venues in the world.

It is also only among a handful of grounds that still houses an open press box and the majority of its seating for the spectators is on the grass bed, making cricket viewing here a sort of family picnic. As alluring as the ambience can get, not many teams that have visited here have gone back with fond memories. South Africa are almost invincible at this ground, having won 17 of their 22 Tests. While they have drawn thrice, only England (2010) and Australia have managed to beat them once each here.

It's an intimidating record that India will be up against when they take on the hosts in the second of the three-Test series here from Saturday. India have played only once at this venue and they were hammered out of sight after having been shot out for 136 and 459. India will have to bring their A game to the table to avoid another such hammering.

Home skipper Faf du Plessis, who has been vocal about his demand for a pitch with pace and bounce, wasn't too happy with the "browner than normal" appearance of the pitch for the second Test but Virat Kohli said he had no complaints as he expected the deck to be fast and bouncy. While these two made for interesting observation of the surface, India would do well not to overthink the pitch and complicate things for themselves.

If less grass means not much lateral movement, then the Indian batsmen should worry less about the conditions. While they can handle pace with some authority, it's the movement of the ball and uneven bounce that has always troubled them not unlike in Cape Town. That also throws up a few challenges on the selection front. With the surface expected to bake and deteriorate under the harsh sun as the match wears on, spin may play a big part and that means both teams will retain their lone spinner from the previous game.

India will likely retain their three pacers plus medium pace all-rounder Hardik Pandya but there will be some tweak in the batting line-up. K L Rahul is widely expected to replace Shikhar Dhawan but interestingly, Parthiv Patel was seen batting ahead of many top-order batsmen in the 'nets' that opens up other options. Kohli once again defended his decision to play Rohit Sharma overlooking Ajinkya Rahane's impressive record in these conditions but indicated that the vice-captain may return to the playing XI here.

Once again, the first innings batting will be crucial for India. They can't afford to have wickets falling in clusters like in Newlands where they hardly got any momentum. While the conditions obviously are difficult to tackle, they need to show some positive intent to take on the rival attack which will be preying on their perceived weakness against bounce.

South African batting hasn't looked too comfortable either with the Indian pacers proving they are up for the scrap but that hasn't worried du Plessis one bit. While he dropped a hint that pace-bowling all-rounder Chris Morris may replace the injured Dale Steyn from the opening Test, the temptation to play express fast Lungisani Ngidi will be hard to resist. Ngidi is a local boy and is said to clock close to 150kmph on a consistent basis.

Morne Morkel (28 wickets from seven Tests) is their most successful bowler at this venue among the current attack. The tall fast bowler has always relished pace and bounce which he troubled India with in their previous match here in 2010. If they indeed opt for Ngidi, then South Africa will have three pacers, the other being Kagiso Rabada, consistently banging the ball in at over 145 kmph. India have a real challenge on their hands.

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