Johannesburg - There is no time for the South African players to feel sorry for themselves.
The Indians don’t. They don’t care that South Africa has been dealt a harsh hand by the sport’s schedulers in the last 12 months, nor do they care that South Africa has lost a match winner in Quinton de Kock.
The tourists don’t care that there’ll be no crowds allowed at the Wanderers, they don’t care that three potential starters for the Proteas on Monday have played less than five Tests. All India cares about, all Virat Kohli wants, is to win, and with that win, to make history.
So the home team’s players can’t mope. De Kock’s retired, get over it, said Dean Elgar on Monday. The same could go for any ill-feeling any of the players may have for Cricket SA’s Board or the state of the sport in the country at the moment - which seems more invested in matters off the field than on it.
Runs must be scored, wickets taken and catches held. For the task in front of the Proteas is an almighty one.
India played very well last week. However they recognised that they weren’t perfect according to their coach Rahul Dravid. And even as they sat and celebrated becoming just the third team to win a Test in Centurion, their minds had already begun looking forward to what they could achieve at the Wanderers.
“Just listening to the conversations straight after the first game, and hearing the focus that there was, is quite heartening as a coach,” said Dravid.
South Africa too have been having lots of conversations since the first Test. “You can talk and talk, but there must be actions, and I said to the guys the other day that I need to see actions now,” said Elgar.
“Talk is cheap if you don’t have a reaction from those kinds of talks. Test cricket is a hard and ruthless environment and if you want to survive in this format, you need to ask yourself the hard questions and respond to those questions.”
Besides the talks between players, plenty of time was also spent with the selectors, poring over personnel and positional changes that may occur to help address some of the problems that occured at SuperSport Park.
However besides the obvious replacement of De Kock by Kyle Verreynne, Elgar implied that little else would change. “Changes in the batting order were talked about, but the selectors want to give guys opportunities in certain positions.” So Keegan Petersen is likely to stay at no.3 with the onus on Elgar and opening partner Aiden Markram to do their jobs as openers a darnside better than has been the case in recent Tests, where South Africa have found themselves one wicket down inside the first two overs.
“We know the responsibility and burden that comes with opening the batting. We need to look after the new ball. If we do that then 3,4,5 and 6 can come in and be as natural as possible. Of late we’ve played in relatively rough conditions, but that is not an excuse, we need to be better and get those partnerships going again.”
Keshav Maharaj is likely to be retained as well, with Elgar citing the left-arm spinner’s intellect, his tactical value against a right-hand batter heavy Indian line-up and the stability he provides to an inexperienced playing XI. The only other likely change is Duanne Olivier starting, with one of Wiaan Mulder or Marco Jansen, set to be benched.
It’s been yet another volatile few days for the Proteas, who have had to deal with plenty of upheaval in the last few years. They have lots of reasons to sulk. But no one, least of all India, will care if they do.
“Test cricket is bloody tough, you’re facing some of the best bowlers in the world now, so you need to put on your big boy pants and react to what has happened,” Elgar commented.
South Africa: Dean Elgar (capt), Aiden Markram, Keegan Petersen, Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, Kyle Verreynne, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Duanne Olivier, Lungi Ngidi
India: KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, Shardul Thakur, Ravi Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
Umpires: Marais Erasmus, Allahuddien Paleker. TV - Adrian Holdstock
Match Referee: Andy Pycroft
TV: SuperSport 212 and SABC 3
Ball by ball Streaming: @1worldsr