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South Africa without Steyn, Philander for de Villiers's 100th Test

India bolstered by Ishant's return, with weather expected to have a say in the second Test in Bangalore

South Africa without Steyn, Philander for de Villiers's 100th Test - Cricket News
AB de Villiers will be playing his 100th Test.
Two days before what will be his 100th Test match, AB de Villiers had spoken of the “resilience” and “character” in the South African side, traits that the world’s premier batsman hoped would help his team recover from a 1-0 deficit in its series against India.

Come Saturday (November 14), those qualities will be tested to the limit, with the confirmation that South Africa will be without both Dale Steyn, who has still not recovered from his groin strain, and Vernon Philander, who limped off training on Thursday with torn ligaments in his left ankle. Friday the 13th thus dawned ominously for South Africa, which will head into the second Test in Bangalore without the two men who are the most adept at moving the ball in the air, in a city that has been under an almost uninterrupted cloud cover and promises a little something more for the swing merchants than Mohali did.

Kagiso Rabada is a bundle of talent, Morne Morkel has proven ability and Kyle Abbott has done admirably whenever called on to fill in, this time for Philander – and despite their inexperience, South Africa will hope they step up to the challenge. 

Hashim Amla, the South Africa Test captain, had his customary calm demeanour on match eve, but it is an inescapable fact that the visiting side’s quest for a series-levelling win has been made just that much harder. 

India, on the other hand, will welcome back Ishant Sharma, the lanky seamer having served out his one-match ban and ready to lead the pace attack again.

But while the atmospheric conditions might give the faster men some cheer, it is unlikely that the pitch at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium will be tailored to their needs. The 22 yards were protected by a unique wedding reception-style shamiana on Wednesday and Thursday. Several members and support staff from both teams made detailed inspections of the surface, among them R Ashwin. Spin bowling is India’s strength, so it is only natural to expect that the pitches for the series will take that into account, and so far, it is something that the players of both sides have had no issues with.

As for selection, Indians hinted a possible curveball in the shape of Gurkeerat Singh Mann, the latest addition to the squad, who could potentially strengthen the batting. 

“He could fit into our scheme of things,” said Kohli. “I can’t put a particular time when, but he is certainly in the mix of things because he has the ability with the bat and he can be very, very dangerous at that No. 6 or No. 7 position. He is an instinctive player and he can take the game away from the opposition. He is bowling as well. He has earned being called up into the team. These kind of cricketers who can bring balance to the whole combination are very, very important in any squad, especially because we are playing so many Test matches in India in the next year and a half; it will be very important to have guys like Gurkeerat, who can provide that balance for us, like Stuart (Binny) did very well for us in Sri Lanka. He certainly does fit in the scheme of things. Don’t be surprised if you see him playing very soon.”

Both Kohli and Amla were in agreement that the conditions on offer in Bangalore were dissimilar to Mohali. While Kohli conceded that they could play a part in changing the team composition, Amla was more pragmatic.

“With Ishant coming in, he brings in a lot of experience. He's bowled well in subcontinent conditions, knows how to reverse swing the ball, can lead the pace attack. The combination can or will change according to the conditions,” offered Kohli. “I would rather have a guy who will give me control in an important time in the game rather than someone who will just get the overs out of the way. We are just trying to figure out, according to the pitch and conditions, who will be doing more of the bowling and what stage in the game.”

Amla simply stated: “Let’s see what the weather tomorrow is like. These types of conditions suit seam bowling, but India has got some disciplined bowlers as well so let’s not rule them out as yet. When the ball is moving and swinging, all you've got to do is land it in a decent area – no matter who is bowling, it’s a good ball.”

The weather will have a say in the Test, with cloudy skies forecast for a while longer. But if the rain stays away for long enough, there could still be enough time for a result. Despite the loss of key personnel, South Africa remains a potent side, but it is undoubtedly India that will be the more favoured side heading into the contest. If South Africa can find the depths of reserve to hold the home side off, it will keep their dream of a series triumph alive.

Teams (from):
M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, KL Rahul, Umesh Yadav, Rohit Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Gurkeerat Singh Mann.

South Africa: Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla (capt), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dane Vilas (wk), Simon Harmer, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir, Kagiso Rabada, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Abbott, Dane Piedt.

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