Can India avoid the humiliation of a series whitewash, asks Harish Kotian.
IMAGE: If India have to win the Johannesburg Test, Ajinkya Rahane, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara must click at the batting crease. Photograph: BCCI
Having already surrendered the series, India will play for pride when they take on South Africa in the final Test in Johannesburg, which begins on Wednesday, January 24.
India will be desperate to avoid a series whitewash. If India lose the third Test, it will only add to their reputation as poor travellers.
Having enjoyed a near invincible run at home in the last couple of years, Virat Kohli and his men have been ruthlessly exposed by South Africa in the first two Tests.
The series was also the first major examination of Kohli's captaincy and there is little doubt that his team let him down.
The celebrated Indian batting line-up fell like the proverbial nine pins, failing to chase 208 and 287 in the Cape Town and Pretoria Tests.
The opening slots continue to be a problem despite Kohli and Coach Ravi Shastri trying different combinations in both games.
The normally reliable Murali Vijay has had just one inning of note while his partners Shikhar Dhawan and K L Rahul struggled to cope with the South African fast bowlers.
Equally disappointing has been Cheteshwar Pujara who scored just 49 runs in four innings, including two run outs in the second Test.
The Jo'burg Test is the time for Virat and Ravi to take tough decisions rather than pick players for Tests based on their form in limited overs cricket as Rohit Sharma's selection has proved.
Including Rohit for the second Test was mystifying after his failure in the first Test, especially since he was picked ahead of Ajinkya Rahane who has an impressive record abroad.
Dropping Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second Test was equally intriguing. Bhuvi was superb with both bat and ball in the first game.
His replacement, Ishant Sharma, who was playing his 80th Test, didn't really justify his inclusion. Ishant took just 5 wickets on an uneven Centurion wicket where debutant pacer Lungi Ngidi picked up six wickets in the second innings and bowled South Africa to victory.
If India want to spring a turnaround, Virat and Ravi must think hard and field the right playing eleven.
In a home series, the team can get away if one player fails to perform to expectations, but overseas every player is key to the final outcome.
I suggest Rahane and Bhuvi's immediate induction into the playing eleven.
Picking Parthiv Patel -- after Wriddhiman Saha equalled a world record in the first Test -- was a mystery even with the claim that the first choice 'keeper had a side strain.
Parthiv's poor show in the Pretoria Test means Dinesh Karthik -- who was summoned as the 'injured' Saha's replacement -- will don the gloves. This is DK's big chance to showcase his talent on the big stage -- time is racing out on his career.
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