India will still go into this contest as slight favourites, having stormed through fortresses in Australia, England and most recently, at the SuperSport Park. They couldn’t protect their unbeaten record in Johannesburg but may see this as a time for breaking new ground. Newlands is the place for it. India haven’t ever won at this venue but this is a side that thrives on challenging history and have already rewritten some narratives on this tour.
Of course, there’s always the danger that South Africa have already played their final after achieving their highest successful chase in Johannesburg and they will do themselves a disservice if that’s the case. The Wanderers should be a turning point for them, especially if their cricket is to move beyond the foundation phase of its rebuild.
South Africa WLWWL (last five Tests, most recent first)
In the spotlight
South Africa are unlikely to make any changes to the XI that won at the Wanderers. That will mean there won’t be a debut for top-order batters Sarel Erwee and Ryan Rickelton, while seamers Glenton Stuurman and Sisanda Magala also have to wait their turn.
South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar (capt), 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Keegan Petersen, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Temba Bavuma, 6 Kyle Verreynne (wk), 7 Marco Jansen, 8 Keshav Maharaj, 9 Kagiso Rabada 10 Duanne Olivier, 11 Lungi Ngidi
After missing the Johannesburg Test because of upper back spasms, Kohli comes back in, with Hanuma Vihari most likely sitting out. Kohli also confirmed that Siraj, who picked up a hamstring concern at the Wanderers, isn’t fit to play. Either Ishant Sharma or Umesh Yadav could take his place.
India (probable): 1 KL Rahul, 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 R Ashwin, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ishant Sharma/Umesh Yadav
‘I still pinch myself to this day’ – Rabada set to play 50th Test
Pitch and conditions
The pandemic has kept Test cricket away from Newlands over the last two years, and in that time much has changed about the ground. An office block has been built on what used to be the smaller grass embankment (you might remember it as Castle Corner) and a new groundsman has taken over. Braam Mong will prepare his first international pitch, which is likely to be less challenging for batters than the Highveld surfaces the teams come from. The average first-innings total in the eight first-class matches played at this ground since its last Test in January 2020 is a healthy 361. In first-innings total terms, Newlands ranks sixth among the 68 grounds that have hosted at least five first-class matches in the last two years.
Conversely, wicket-taking is tough. Of the 320 potential wickets which could have fallen since the start of 2020, only 215 have been taken. Seamers have been responsible for 130 of those, at an average of 32.70, while spinners have taken 85 wickets at 34.40.
Cape Town had a week of temperatures above 30 degrees to ring in the new year but that cooled off to 22 on the eve of the match. Things will heat up as the Test progresses, with Thursday expected to top 34 degrees.
Stats and trivia
“In the last 10-11 years I’ve been playing three formats and the IPL constantly, and the workload is obviously high when you’re performing consistently, and there are training days when you’re working hard in the gym, travelling days – they all accumulate, and somewhere you take it for granted that you’ll play every match, that there won’t be any fitness issues. It’s a strange feeling [to miss a match with injury], but it shows you the reality. You’re playing a sport, and your body will suffer wear and tear, and you need to accept that you’re also human, and you need to view yourself as a human, and if your perspective around that isn’t clear, it can lead to frustration, and that’s not right, because niggles and injuries are very natural in sport.”
Virat Kohli, on what it felt like to sit out the Johannesburg Test with back spasms
“It’s the best I’ve seen Newlands in quite some time. They’re trying to prepare a good Test wicket. They want it to deteriorate over time, over day four and five. It looks like a relatively good cricket pitch. Newlands has never really been known for massive pace and bounce. They want to get us to play five days of cricket. If we implement the basics, from both teams, we will get there. The fact that they’ve got a new groundsman, he is maybe under pressure to prepare a good wicket. Visually, it looks like it’s going to be a good Test wicket. If you bowl well, you are going to reap rewards but if you apply your basics batting, you are also going to get success.”
Dean Elgar, on his expectations from the Cape Town surface
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent