TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
ONLY three current players have scored test centuries at Jamtha. Two of them are involved in the third match of the series between India and SA starting here on Wednesday.
The odd man out is England’s Ian Bell. That leaves Hashim Amla and Virat Kohli. Another hundred from either of them could decide the match and with it the course of a series the home side lead 1-0 with two to play.
Success and failure will be determined by the pitch, which is expected to be bespoke for India’s three horsemen of the apocalypse – off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and leg spinner Amit Mishra.
Big innings, then, appear unlikely. Remember that in the first test, played on a parchment pitch in Mohali, India looked marginally less inept against Imran Tahir, Simon Harmer and Dean Elgar, who claimed 15 of the 20 wickets that fell in totals of 201 and 200.
Still, Kohli would prefer a surface like that to the pitch that doomed the previous Jamtha test, against England in December 2012, to a draw.
“There were no result possibilities and nothing happening in the wicket,” Kohli said on Tuesday. “It’s very difficult to motivate yourself when the wicket plays like that.”
And that from a player who scored 103 in the first innings of that match.
Almost three years earlier the highest test score yet recorded at this ground cracked off the bat of Amla, who stood firm for more than 11 hours for his undefeated 253, one of the two pillars of SA’s innings victory.
In this series, Amla has stayed alive for just three hours to muster 50 runs in three innings. In the one-day rubber, he was good for only 89 runs in five trips to the crease. This from a player who averages more than 50 in both formats.
The other pillar of that 2010 triumph was Dale Steyn, who found enough reverse swing to take a match haul of 10/108 – including a first innings raid of 5/3 amid his 7/51, after 81 tests still his best figures in an innings.
Amla labelled Steyn “probably” a non-starter because of the groin strain that has limited his contribution with the ball to India’s first innings in Mohali.
“It’s a setback because not having the best bowler in the world is not a nice thing, but we’ve got to deal with it and we’ve got some good reserves,” Amla said.
“Although spinners take the most wickets in the sub-continent, there’s no-one better than him.”
The focus will be on SA’s batting. They average 16.9 in the series and have twice been dismissed for fewer than 200.
AB de Villiers, who scored 63 in Mohali and 85 in the second test in Bangalore, is their only batsman to have reached 50.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara are India’s only half-centurions, but SA have been dismissed thrice to India’s twice – and the visitors have faced just eight balls more than their hosts in the series.
“Had we won (in Mohali, where India prevailed by 108 runs) similar questions would have been thrown towards India,” Amla said. “You’ve got to keep things in perspective.”
Indeed, you do. How’s this for perspective: SA have been unbeaten for 14 away rubbers, eight of them in the sub-continent or in the similar conditions of the Emirates.
Every way you spin it, there is a lot on the line.