With four of the five days of the Bangalore Test having been washed out, it has been a while since India and South Africa stepped out on to the field. As such, the momentum that India held going into the second Test, might have been snatched away to an extent. But, on paper, the 1-0 lead remains in India's favour, which means South Africa have to take the tough calls in an effort to ensure that they go into the fourth and final Test with a chance to win the series, or at least level it. For that, they will have to dig deep into their resources and pull out something special. It won't be easy for sure, but there is a lot at stake for the Proteas at Nagpur.
From what has been on show in the three-and-a-half days of Test cricket played so far in the series, it is clear that South African batsmen's performance against Indian spinners will decide the fate of the series. So far, they have failed miserably in that aspect, and this factor has been the major difference between the two sides. To be fair to South Africa, their own bowlers have excelled under the conditions, but the Indian batsmen have been marginally better on surfaces they are used to, and that has been enough to keep South Africa on the back foot thus far. This trend must change at Nagpur for the Proteas to make a batting impression.
With the Indian spinners in great form, at least on the surfaces they are being provided with, the task will be extremely difficult for South Africa's batsmen at Nagpur at well. But, if they want to look at the positive side of things, at least they know what is to be done. The main reason why South Africa have struggled so far is because two of their most experienced players, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis have failed to deliver. Amla wasn't in great from heading into India, and he has failed to set things right against his favourite opponent as well. As for Faf, he has looked in complete awe of Indian spinners.
Amla and Faf will have to turn their form around spectacularly if South Africa want to compete. On biting turners like the ones that have been on show in the series so far, batsmen deserve a bit of luck. Faf and Amla will be hoping for the same as they head out to bat at Nagpur. At the same time, they would do well to not overestimate the pitch. Even as it cannot be denied that rank turners have been prepared to aid Indian spinners, it is also true that not all dismissals have been caused by the surface. Some have been the result of demons in players' heads. And both Faf and Amla have suffered from this dangerous syndrome.
If one looks at South African batsmen's performance in the series thus far, only AB de Villiers has looked comfortable. Even as a majority of the players have struggled, de Villiers has looked in little trouble. At Bangalore, he singlehandedly took the Proteas past 200. But, there is only so much he can do singlehandedly. De Villiers will need a lot more support from the likes of Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl and Dane Vilas. Without doubt they are finding it tough under alien conditions, and their lack of experience isn't helping their cause. At the same time, this is also an opportunity for them to turn heroes. Are they good enough?
-- By A Cricket Analyst