Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
2 minute read
24 Dec 2021
10:52 am

Pace attack could be key for Proteas in Boxing Day Test

Ken Borland

In 26 Tests played in Centurion, only three have ended in draws.

There are question marks over the fitness of Proteas fast bowler Lungi Ngidi. Picture: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

SuperSport Park, the venue for the first Test between South Africa and India from Boxing Day, is famous for being a result pitch, so does that mean the Proteas need to pack their side with batters against a tremendous visiting attack?

But given the absence of the injured Anrich Nortje, the question marks over Lungi Ngidi’s fitness and how well returning Duanne Olivier and potential debutant Marco Jansen will slot into Test cricket, the temptation to pack their attack with four pacemen, including all-rounder Wiaan Mulder, will be big.

There have been 26 Tests played at Centurion and only three of them have ended in a draw. All three draws have been against England, with the last one, in 2009, the most recent Test at SuperSport Park which did not have a result.

The previous Test there saw South Africa beat Sri Lanka by an innings last December, and they fielded an attack featuring three specialist quicks, Mulder and spinner Keshav Maharaj. On a flat pitch on which more than a thousand runs were scored in the first innings, that line-up worked well, with Mulder taking five wickets in the match and having 36 runs on his tab as well.

Ngidi has spent more time off the field than on it this year, however, and has bowled seven competitive overs since July. Given his previous fitness issues, there have to be worries that he might not be able to last an entire Test match, so the Proteas will need some bowling insurance if he does play.

Left-armer Jansen’s star is on the rise and he was impressive with bat and ball for SA A against India A earlier this month, but to field the 21-year-old rookie alongside Olivier, who last played a Test in February 2019, involves some risks as well.

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India have a similar selection debate to deal with. They have fielded five bowlers for most of the year, but with no Ravindra Jadeja on tour, do they have the confidence to bat Ravichandran Ashwin at No 7?

Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami will lead India’s attack, but is Mohammad Siraj going to be their third paceman or does Shardul Thakur, who has scored three fifties already in his four Tests, get the nod because he and Ashwin combined give good batting depth?

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Of course, India could play all four fast bowlers and leave out Ashwin, but considering his success against South African batsmen, that is unlikely.

Either way, a pitch that has had plenty of rain on it and usually provides pace and bounce, and two quality pace attacks, could have batsmen asking mama to tuck them in with a cup of cocoa on the eve of the game.