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South Africa face stern wristspin test, without their bulwarks

Big picture

As is the case with teams facing India, South Africa have been talking up the visitors' reliance on Virat Kohli. Even after losing the first ODI of the series, South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis said Kohli was India's backbone, and that South Africa knew they could put India under pressure if they could go past him. What irony then that South Africa have lost AB de Villiers for three matches, and now du Plessis himself for the rest of India's tour, trying to get Kohli out. De Villiers and du Plessis both injured their fingers trying to catch Kohli at slip. They now have a new captain, Aiden Markram, who will be playing only his third ODI.

As if facing India's wristspinners in the middle overs was not bad enough, South Africa are now left to do so without their middle-order bulwarks. In the first ODI, India laid down the marker. India do have arguably the best top three in the world, but they have been winning matches through the middle overs, which is when their spinners control the game. While Hashim Amla didn't get to face the spinners in the first ODI, du Plessis looked the only one out of the top six comfortable enough against them. It was going to be hard enough in the short turnaround between matches to find a way past them, but to do so without their captain, who faced them for long enough will be a big task.

Without the services of their middle-order mainstays, South Africa now need to go from 79 for 5 off the main spinners to 100 for 2 or so. It is not a good sign for any host side to be talking just about the pitches, but South Africa will hope the pitches are quicker in the rest of the series. South Africa started the series on a 17-match winning streak at home, and two days in, they are in a tough fight for the series. They need to make sure it is possible to win the series by the time de Villiers comes back, for the fourth ODI.

India will enjoy the confidence in their ranks, and the confusion in South Africa's. They are arguably the best ODI side in the world at the moment, with the variety at their disposal both in their batting and bowling. They came here with an ordinary record in bilateral ODI cricket in South Africa; now is their chance to correct it.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa: LWWWL
India: WWWLW

In the spotlight

With du Plessis gone, the batting onus falls on Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, but you can't realistically expect them to bat through the innings. When the spin is on, JP Duminy and David Miller will somehow have to find a way if South Africa are to succeed. Neither of them carries a great reputation against spin, but their numbers against spin - even though they dip as compared to pace - are not bleak. Miller strikes at 6.67 an over against pace; it comes down to 5.4 against spin. The corresponding numbers for Duminy are 5.94 and 4.62. Their averages against spin are 39.08 and 39.93. If they can do what their averages against spin suggests, they should be fine, but India's spinners are anything but average.

Virat Kohli doesn't offer too many chances in ODIs. In Durban, he offered one with no runs to his name, and South Africa had only one slip. What's more, the diving first slip, du Plessis, even broke his finger going for the catch. Kohli was then involved in a run-out, but the genius of his ODI batting showed in how he never let the asking rate get big enough to put pressure on his side. He did so without so much as taking a risk. South Africa know they can put pressure on India if they get past Kohli, but it is the getting-past-Kohli part they don't seem to know much about at the moment.

Team news

Aiden Markram, not a certain starter in the last match, will captain South Africa in du Plessis' absence. Du Plessis' spot could go to Khaya Zondo or Farhaan Behardien. While Zondo was there in the squad already, Behardien's experience could count in his favour. After returns of 10-0-51-0, Imran Tahir will be under a little pressure, but he should keep his place.

South Africa (probable): 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Aiden Markram, 4 Khaya Zondo/ Farhaan Behardien, 5 JP Duminy, 6 David Miller, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Morne Morkel, 11 Imran Tahir

The Highveld might not be the ideal place to play two spinners, but India have been confident in their ability to do well in any conditions. Expect them to play both Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal. India could look to rest one of their quicks. Bhuvneshwar Kumar didn't play the Centurion Test either so if Shardul Thakur comes in, it could be at the expense of Bhuvneshwar.

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt.), 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 MS Dhoni (wk), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar/ Shardul Thakur, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal

Pitch and conditions

The average first-innings score in Centurion in the last five ODIs is 332. However, they have all been day-night matches. The last day match played here was in November 2013, when Pakistan were bowled out for 179. In the last five day ODIs in Centurion, sides batting first have lost four times. Expect runs, but bowling first might be the way to go.

Stats and trivia

  • Ajinkya Rahane has now scored five consecutive fifties in ODIs, only the third batsman to do so for India.

  • Leaving out India's wristspinners, South Africa lost only one wicket and went at 6.23 an over against the rest in the first ODI.

  • Aiden Markram is South Africa's second-youngest ODI captain, behind Graeme Smith.

Quotes

"I don't necessarily see it as a problem. It's just been one game. I believe there's quality batsmen in our middle order, and it's just about taking responsibility. Obviously we've had to adjust our game-plans just a touch going into this game, but it wasn't addressing any sort of problem, I don't think."

Aiden Markram on how to deal with India's spinners

"We all are confident about tomorrow. The way we played in Durban, especially our bowlers, those wristspinners did really well for us. It was a complete team effort but we want to start from zero because whatever happened in Durban is past now. This team is always living in the present."

Ajinkya Rahane doesn't want to take anything for granted