CENTURION: An empty SuperSport Park is clearly a mirage. It happens to be one of the smaller grounds anywhere in the world, but try picturising the length and breadth of it when you’re standing here in the middle of the field. The boundary rope, followed by the LED perimeter boards covering three-fourths of the stadium, come across as only a blur as the field stretches out into the grass banks. It gives an impression of a playfield much larger than it actually is.
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The ball doesn’t take much time getting to the ropes here, unlike the Newlands in Cape Town, one of the biggest cricket grounds in the world. This is perhaps only a trivia among many other more important factors that’ll make a difference to the second Test between India and South Africa starting here at 10 am local time on Saturday. Runs, to cut a long story short, will be relatively easier to score, unlike how it turned out to be in the first Test of this series.
But that’s easier said than done. Small as the ground might be, it has given South Africa big returns in the last 10 years. In fact, barring the Mitchell Johnson-led Australian attack that nailed the hosts in their own den back in 2014, no other visiting side in recent time has managed to beat South Africa here.
Centurion may fall short in terms of yards, but it makes up by the way of pace, courtesy a hard, bouncy wicket. Expect Kagiso Rabada, now the World’s No. 1 in rankings, and Morne Morkel, whose home Centurion is, to come fast, bowl short and maintain metronomic lengths session by session.
Each session will count as India, the World’s No. 1 Test team, look to stay alive in this series.
South Africa are not expected to change their side too much apart from finding an able replacement for the great Dale Steyn. Expect the hosts to choose between Chris Morris and Lungi Ngidi to make up for that loss as the pace ace is out with a tissue damage to his left heel. That aside, South Africa could stay with the combination that fell in place so beautifully at Newlands.
India, on the other hand, are set to rope in KL Rahul for Shikhar Dhawan, as TOI had reported on Thursday. But that’s not the only change to expect. Ishant Sharma, the tall Delhi pacer, could come into the XI in place of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The latter, who impressed in the first innings at Newlands, will sit out as conditions here may not aid swing bowling.
The weather forecast here is good for Test, bright and sunny over the weekend. However, the locals here say when Centurion gets too hot, it often triggers thundershowers. But that aside, five good days of Test cricket are assured.
Five good days, of course, if India give South Africa a run for their money in their own backyard.