South Africa vs India 2018: Why the Johannesburg Test match is more than just a dead rubber for Team India

Adnan Akhtar

2nd Sunfoil Test: South Africa v India, Day 4

After a significant amount of pre-series talk about securing a first ever Test series win on South African soil, the Indian team failed to live up to the expectations, losing the first two Test matches to the home team. Since that loss at Centurion, a lot has been discussed about the Indian team’s dismal performance.

The unexpected selections, along with losing out on key moments in the Test match due to dropped catches and unnecessary run-outs, did not help the touring side in matches where fine margins decided the outcome of the game.

As the Indian side head to the Wanderers for the third Test, a trial by pace, bounce and swing awaits them. However, India would take confidence from the fact that they secured their first ever Test win in South Africa on this ground in 2006 on a tour where they were thrashed in the other matches. Even on the last tour in 2013, the Indian team set up a 458 run target in the final innings, only to be denied by a gritty South African chase, resulting in a high-scoring draw.

Despite the series being already lost, there is still a lot to play for India in the final match.

A chance to remain at the number 1 position

India started the series on 124 ranking points, leading second place South Africa by 13 points. A 3-0 defeat would result in both teams being on 118 points with India being marginally ahead on decimal points. If India manage to draw the final Test, they would remain at number 1 with 120 points while the home team would be on 116 points. A win at the Wanderers would take India to 121 points leading South Africa by 7 points.

The ICC awards a cash prize of $1 million every year to the team that finishes at the number 1 position at the cut-off date of 1st April. India has received this prize for the past two years mainly owing to their impressive performances at home. If India lose or draw the Johannesburg Test, then they would be at a risk of losing out on the number 1 ranking as the South Africans host Australia for a four match Test series before the cut-off date. On the other hand, this would be India’s last Test match before 1st April.

The ranking scenarios are as follows:

Ranking scenarios for India and South Africa before the ICC cut-off date

A win in Johannesburg will guarantee the number 1 ranking at the cut-off date for India. In case of a draw, India can lose the top spot if the South Africans whitewash the Australians. A South Africa win at the Wanderers would make it easier for them to secure the number 1 spot by winning the series against Australia by a 2-0 or better margin.

A preview of the line-up for the overseas challenges 

Apart from the incentive of remaining at the number 1 spot, the Indian team management would also want to use this match to figure out a settled line-up for their overseas tours. After the South African tour, India will head to England for 5 Test matches in July-August and will be going down-under for a 4 Test match series with the Australians.

Opening pair woes:

India has tried out two opening combinations in this series with both Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul failing to make a significant score. Their common partner Murali Vijay did manage to get some runs under his belt during the first innings at Centurion but failed to convert it into a big score. During the last leg of India's away tours, Vijay was a key figure in setting a platform for the team. However, his lack of form in foreign conditions is a sign of concern for the team management.

The Indian openers would desperately want to get their act together and score some runs on possibly a tricky pitch at the Wanderers.

Rahane or Rohit:

The exclusion of Ajinkya Rahane from the playing XI has ignited the debate on selection based on current form or overseas record. Rohit Sharma despite scoring heavily back in Indian conditions has failed to live up to the expectations in the bouncier conditions of South Africa. On the other hand, Rahane has a much better record overseas but is coming of a dismal run against Sri Lanka at home.

After Sharma's twin failures, Kohli would want to try out Rahane at the Bullring in the hope that he can provide stability in the middle order and be a key figure in overseas Test matches.

Wicketkeeping duties:

Due to the injury to Wridhiman Saha, India were forced to blood in Parthiv Patel in his place for the Centurion Test. However, the missed catches by Patel has raised questions on his wicket-keeping abilities in bouncy conditions. India do have the option of Dinesh Karthik who was flown in from India for the final Test. It has to be seen if the Tamil Nadu batsman makes it to the final XI or if India continue with Patel for another Test. Whatever be the case, India desperately need a reserve wicketkeeper for foreign conditions as these moments can decide the eventual result of the Test match.

All-in-all, Ravi Shastri and co would have their work cut out and would want to rectify some of these problems before they head on to the challenges in England and Australia.