Return to Pretoria's flat track for finale
As India A gear up for their final match on the tour to South Africa, a four-day fixture that begins in Pretoria on Saturday, it is the pitch that comes into sharp focus. The one-day tri-series that preceded the Rustenburg four-day game was played in Pretoria, and high scores were the norm in that tournament. The tracks were as flat as they get, and more of the same could be expected for the long-format match.
South Africa A would be thankful for that, as they look to square the series. India crushed them by an innings and 13 runs in Rustenburg; the visitors had the best of batting conditions and then, as the pitch began to deteriorate and slow, their bowlers finished the job.
For India, Shikhar Dhawan will be particularly glad to return to Pretoria, where he smashed a record 248 off 150 balls during the one-dayers. Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, who scored hundreds in the Rustenburg match, will be hoping to further their chances of returning to South Africa later in the year with the senior team - though Pujara did admit his team-mates know better than to expect similar conditions in that much-anticipated Test series.
For now, the Indian batsmen looking to make a final mark will be helped by the fact that South Africa will be without pace bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who was included in the squad but is away due to family reasons. Marchant de Lange will miss out too, as he is still recovering from the rib injury he picked up during South Africa A's four-day game against Australia A at the end of July. JP Duminy and Wayne Parnell, who were two of the better performers in the first match, are unlikely to be rested.
This match will also mark the final game in a unique coaching initiative for South Africa. Six franchise coaches - Cape Cobra's Paul Adams, Dolphins' Lance Klusener, Warriors' Piet Botha, Lions' Geoffrey Toyana, Knights' Sarel Cilliers and Titans' Malibongwe Maketa - had all assisted South Africa A head coach Vincent Barnes during the team's series against Australia A and India A over the past six weeks.
"This gave our domestic coaches an opportunity to work in this environment against international opposition," Barnes said. "It has worked well because they bring in a lot of experience as assistant coaches and their interaction is important for this [High Performance] programme. Our relationship with the coaches is a lot stronger and that is beneficial going forward."
Cilliers said the tough track in Rustenburg provided the players and the coaches with a good learning experience. "It was a good opportunity to tap into the other players' mindsets. Our players were tested in difficult conditions in Rustenburg and that not only exposed their short-comings, but also gave a valuable indication of the areas to work on so that we give more accomplished cricketers to the national team."
Adams, the former South Africa spinner, termed the initiative a "platform for growth". "It was a great experience, being afforded the opportunity to work with the top crop of players in the country," he said. "I particularly enjoyed getting a different take on game tactics and situations from the players. It is a great platform as it is another way of creating growth amongst the players and the coaches."
As the programme winds down in Pretoria, South Africa's team of coaches will be hoping some of that growth is visible.