Runs, poor form and fitness issues are at the forefront as South Africa aim to get back into the series in Nagpur.
Big runs needed
It’s simple really. South Africa need to score some decent totals in the Test. The batting has been the biggest issue in the series so far for various reasons, but scores of 350-plus should targeted to keep South Africa in the mix. The bowlers need something to bowl at and Hashim Amla needs to be able to use Imran Tahir more freely in an attacking capacity. It starts at the top with Dean Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl all the way down to JP Duminy at six. Duminy’s absence is always talked up when he can’t play; he needs to show it’s with good reason.
Amla and his charges need a response, having been outplayed so far. They need to respond in a manner that shows why they are the best Test side in the world. They need their big players to fire, for the batsmen to score runs and the bowlers to take wickets. India will want to wrap up the series and will again target South Africa’s frailty against spin. The Proteas camp have been adamant they play spin well, but they’ll need to prove it.
Amla under fire
The worst thing for a captain is to struggle for runs while your team is losing. Amla faces his greatest test as captain in Nagpur with bat and ball, but he isn’t the only one. Faf du Plessis has only scored one run in three innings and another failure in the third Test will leave his confidence at an all-time low. If South Africa want to score big totals in this game, Amla and Du Plessis will have to come good because, contrary to popular belief, AB de Villiers is only human and he will fail with the bat from time to time. The Proteas will hope that when he does, his fellow batsmen are able to fill the void.
The Steyn factor
A call on Steyn’s fitness will only be made on Wednesday morning, but if the medical staff decide not to risk him Morne Morkel will have to lead the bowling attack. To lose your most experienced bowler for an important game like this will be a blow for South Africa, even if some fans feel he hasn’t been at his best of late. Steyn took 10 wickets the last time he played in Nagpur and even if he isn’t striking regularly, his mere presence in the team has a positive impact on the rest of the bowlers, especially when one of them is only 20 years old. Vernon Philander has already returned home with an ankle injury so to lose Steyn as well will leave South Africa with a very inexperienced attack, not just in international terms but also in Indian conditions.
A lot can change in a week. Before the second Test two specialist spinners in the XI seemed highly unlikely but this time, it might actually make sense, but only if Steyn doesn’t play. Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott/Marchant de Lange alongside Morne Morkel doesn’t exactly ooze confidence. If the pitch is a turner, which the Proteas obviously expect, then it might be worth the risk bringing in Simon Harmer or Dane Piedt to support Tahir. JP Duminy is first and foremost a specialist batsman and with his team struggling for runs in this series he should focus on that. Morkel and Rabada will play if Steyn isn’t fit but picking a second spinner can’t be more risky than having Abbott or De Lange as the third seamer.