Player of the Match
Player of the Match

Can India pull off a heist at SA's stronghold?

Cullinan: Grass and footmarks could support a spinner in Centurion (4:12)

Daryll Cullinan talks about the pitch at SuperSport Park, who could replace Dale Steyn and what combination India should play in the second Test (4:12)

Big picture

In a week's time, the most anticipated series of the season could be all over unless India can do what so many believe is the impossible, and pull off a heist at SuperSport Park. The enormity of the tourists' task is not just based on what we saw last week at Newlands - that South Africa's attack in their own conditions is match-winning - but on the history of the Centurion venue. Every subcontinent side, India included, that has played there has been beaten by an innings.

SuperSport Park offers South Africa everything their sporting archetype wants: plenty for bowlers who can make even the most technically sound batsmen look like amateurs, but that isn't all. The South African line-up enjoys the battle of being on a surface where everything except the crowd is against them. Newlands falsely claims to be the only stadium in South Africa with a decent support base; SuperSport Park has the same. While it may not be filled to capacity during the week, weekends and early evenings are packed with people and they are as vociferous in their war cries. There will be more so on this occasion because the ground did not get a Test last summer when Sri Lanka visited, and will not get one later this year when Australia reach these shores.

If that's not enough to intimidate India, then all they need to think of is that the Wanderers is next on the schedule and although it is one of the two places where India have won a Test in South Africa before, between 2006 and now, Johannesburg has only become less hospitable.

India have the attack to properly challenge South Africa, and they did at Newlands but they need the batsmen to stand up to the hosts' pack. Even without Dale Steyn, South Africa have the depth to keep their foot on India's throat. The newly structured South African XI will likely have four quicks and six specialist batsmen, unless the spinner is deemed surplus to requirements and a seventh batsman is added for security.

Though SuperSport Park has a reputation for being one of the most difficult places to bat, there have been 39 centuries in the 22 Tests played there, including two double-hundreds. So run-scoring, while tough, is not impossible. South Africa already know that but India will have to believe it to keep the series alive beyond the next five days.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WWWWL

In the spotlight

With Steyn out, Morne Morkel once again finds himself the most experienced member of the South African attack even though he is not considered its leader. Vernon Philander's career-best at Newlands and Kagiso Rabada's elevation to No.1 in rankings has left Morkel under the radar but at SuperSport Park, the spotlight belongs to him. Morkel has played at the venue since the start of his career and knows how to make the bounce on offer work for him. The batsmen may be watching for Philander's seam movement and Rabada's pace but Morkel will pose the real danger at the ground.

India need senior batsmen to step up and show intent and Cheteshwar Pujara will want to be that man. He batted for two-and-a-half hours in the first innings in Cape Town and had only 26 runs to show for it, while only scoring 4 in the second dig. If Pujara has been paying attention to what Ottis Gibson has been telling batsmen, which is basically that in these conditions they need to "get some runs before the ball gets you," he will know that seeking to score quicker may be a better approach for the remainder of the series.

Agarkar picks Rahane instead of Pandya for second Test

Ajit Agarkar would want Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul coming in for India for the second Test against South Africa in Centurion

Team news

Ottis Gibson's wish for four seamers means that South Africa may only make one change with one of Chris Morris, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo and Duanne Olivier to replace Steyn. The choice would appear to be between Morris and Ngidi, as both play their domestic cricket at SuperSport Park. While Morris offers pace, he has not played a first-class game since picking up a back injury in England in August. Ngidi also had back issues but took nine wickets on his return to red-ball cricket and has been in impressive form all summer. The six batsmen strategy will mean no space for either Temba Bavuma or Theunis de Bruyn.

South Africa (probable): 1 Dean Elgar, 2 Aiden Markram, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Faf du Plessis (capt), 6 Quinton de Kock (wk), 7 Vernon Philander, 8 Chris Morris/Lungi Ngidi, 9 Keshav Maharaj 10 Kagiso Rabada 11 Morne Morkel

Virat Kohli said there was no need to panic, and didn't suggest changes in the bowling combination or the composition of the side. The bowlers, including Hardik Pandya, look primed to get another go. India don't seem to be in a hurry to drop Rohit Sharma based on one Test, which leaves the opening combination up for debate. Kohli said they were going to decide on that after the nets on Friday. Shikhar Dhawan's alternative - if they so desire - is KL Rahul. A left-field choice could be Parthiv Patel. If used, Parthiv allows India to retain the right-left combination at the top and also opens up a slot in the middle order for Ajinkya Rahane to claim. On Friday, R Ashwin left the nets with an ice pack around his right shoulder after he was hit while taking throwdowns. The team management doesn't expect it to be serious.

India: (probable): 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 M Vijay, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Rohit Sharma, 6 R Ashwin, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Wriddhiman Saha, 9 Bhuveshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Pitch and conditions

Traditionally, SuperSport Park is as South African as it gets. The surface offers pace and bounce and there is often swing; on the eve of the match it looked brown with no green grass on it. Things should be no different even though this Test pitch will be groundsman Bryan Bloy's first since he was hired two years ago. Bloy journeyed to Cape Town last week, along with other members of the SuperSport Park logistics team to observe how Evan Flint and his team went about things and it will be interesting to see if they have picked up any tips on leaving live grass on the strip. Weather in the lead-up to the match has been hot and dry and seem to have burnt the grass on the pitch brown. Temperatures are set to soar during the match, likely to be in the early 30s with no rain forecast, although afternoon thundershowers on the Highveld can never be discounted.

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa have their best win percentage at SuperSport, with victories in 17 out of 22 Tests, a 77% success rate. They have only lost twice there, once to each of England (2000) and Australia (2014).

  • India have only played one Test in Centurion, on their 2010-11 tour. They were bowled out for 136 in the first innings and lost by an innings and 25 runs, though the match did mark Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test hundred.

  • Mohammed Shami needs one more wicket to reach 100 Test scalps.


"We prepare bowling friendly conditions because we want to win Test matches. The first priority is to win games. If we play in series where the ball dominates, so be it."
Faf du Plessis has warned his batsmen not to expect things to get any easier.

"I don't think we need to panic because of collapses. People need to apply themselves much better, whether you are playing five batsmen or six. Even if we are playing six batsmen, you can't go out there and play loose shots."
Virat Kohli says there's no need for alarm after India's batting at Newlands.

Unwanted run


Cheteshwar Pujara is the first India player to be run out twice in a Test. He's the 23rd overall and first since Stephen Fleming v Zimbabwe in December 2000.

Record chase needed


The highest run-chase at SuperSport Park in Centurion, which was by England in 2000. India are set a record target of 287 to chase. There have been only six successful chases at the venue and five of those have been by the home team.

Faf's feat


Runs for Faf du Plessis in Tests. Since his debut, only Amla has scored more runs for SA than du Plessis.

Going on and on


No. of century partnerships in this series. The one between De Villiers and Elgar is the biggest of the two, going past 114 added by De Villiers and Du Plessis in the last Test.

Captain steps up


No. of centuries by India captains in South Africa - Tendulkar (169) in Cape Town 1996-97 and Kohli in this Test.

Opening with spin


Last time a spinner opened the bowling for South Africa in the first innings - Aubrey Faulkner v Australia. SA opened with Keshav Maharaj in this Test.

Shami's century


Wickets for Mohammad Shami in Tests, becoming only the 7th India fast bowler to the milestone.

Spin in Centurion


Wickets for Ashwin so far, which is already 2nd-best for a spinner in the first innings of a Centurion Test; Swann's 5 for 110 in 2009 is the best. Ashwin's 31 overs is 3rd-highest by a spinner in the 1st inngs in Centurion

A first for de Kock


Number of ducks at home for de Kock in all international matches. He has 7 in away games - 3 in NZ, 2 in Ban, 1 each in Aus and SL - but this one in Centurion was his first in South Africa

A long time coming


Innings between two run-outs for Amla in Tests. The last time he was run out in this format was way back in November 2012, in Perth

Centurion's king


Previous most runs by a batsman at SuperSport Park in Centurion, by Jacques Kallis. Hashim Amla has gone past that mark.

Markram's home


Aiden Markram's average in last 6 innings in Centurion (his home ground) across all formats in last six innings, before this match. His scores have been: 161, 119, 87, 51*, 56*, 18*. He has got to another fifty in this innings.

Solid pair


No. of 50+ partnerships between Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar in 7 Test innings, including this innings. They average over 100 as a pair.

South Africa's den


Win-loss record for South Africa in Centurion, in 22 previous Tests. Their win-loss ratio of 8.50 at the venue is the second-best for any team playing 10+ Tests at a ground.